Motley Moose – Archive

Since 2008 – Progress Through Politics

What’s in a Name?

Every so often debate rages anew over the appropriateness of team mascots.

After a lot of pressure the University of Mississippi, Ole’ Miss, went from Col Reb:

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to Rebel Bear, in honor of William Faulkner, after seven years without any mascot:

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Currently Congress has a bill before it to force the Washington Redskins to change their identity

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based on the fact that under trademark legislation passed in 1946, a corporate “mark” can’t be disparaging of a people or group.


I remember calls for the Atlanta Braves and/or Cleveland Indians and/or the Florida Seminoles and/or, yes, the Redskins to change their names.  I’ve always agreed with those calls but thought that the “Redskins” nickname was the most offensive of them all.

And that was before I knew the backstory.

Michael Tomasky wrote a piece for The Daily Beast that, assuming it is true and I have no reason to assume it isn’t, sheds a whole new light on the issue and makes it worse.

Because, you see, the owner of the predecessor to the Redskins, the Boston Braves, was a giant racist who

proposed to his wife against the backdrop of a group of black performers he’d hired to croon “Carry Me Back to Ol’ Virginny” as he popped the question

who was also the last owner to draft an African-American player in 1961 and only did so because he wanted to build the stadium that would become RFK Stadium on Department of Interior land which gave the federal government the ability to force the team to abide by federal non-discrimination policies.

When Marshall died in 1969 he left the bulk of his estate to set up a foundation in his name.  Good for him, right?  Not so fast:

He attached, however, one firm condition: that the foundation, operating out of Washington, D.C., should not direct a single dollar toward “any purpose which supports or employs the principle of racial integration in any form.”

The current owner of the Redskins, Dan Snyder apparently has zero interest in changing the name.  So he leaves in place George Preston Marshall’s ugliness and legacy for no good reason other than tradition and continuity.  It is a disgrace.

And why, you ask, did Marshall change the “Braves” to the “Redskins?”  Supposedly he wanted to honor a coach whose mother might have been part Sioux.


  1. I take solace in the fact that Snyder will probably lose money when he loses the rights to his “brand”. Turns out that you can’t trademark a racial slur! Who knew?

    Even with others telling him that the name change could be a big moneymaker, he says “NEVER NEVER NEVER”.

    p.s. If you Google this story, you will find that right-wing blogs and media are calling any demands “political correctness run amok” and vow to “stand with Snyder”. Insert shock emoticon here.

  2. DeniseVelez

    thanks for this!

    When I lived in DC I refused to root for them because I found the team name totally offensive.

  3. is to transfer the name to your own ethnic group:

    The New York Jewboys?

    The Texas Wetbacks?

    The Georgia Darkies?

    There are derogatory names and stereotypes for just about every group (aren’t humans wonderful?)

    Just substitute your own and see how you feel.

    Like crap.  

  4. Otteray Scribe

    with certain tribes with trademarked tribal names. The Florida State University has a deal with the Seminole Nation of Florida and University of Utah with the Ute tribe. A friend of mine who is a Florida State alum tells me the tribes who have such deals get a cut of trademarked gear sales. I have not done any research to verify that, but it makes sense. Tribal leaders also have tried to insure the use of the tribe name is respectful of tradition. Those schools have objected to use of the term “mascots” in the press, since figures such as Chief Osceola are portrayals of a living person by actors, not mascots.

    Several years ago, someone told me of a little sarcastic jingle making the rounds after the NFL integrated its teams. I had never heard it before. He said the Redskins were the last holdouts, and the jingle went:

    “Redskins, whiteskins.

    Why no black skins?”

  5. Gee

    is meant to be a “tribute” to the fierceness of the tribes in battle.  But, wow, even so, Redskins is a racial slur.  I always ask people who want to keep the name because of “tradition” whether they’d feel the same if it were the Washington Darkies.  (Tip of the hat to Peter Flom.)

  6. bubbanomics

    I think, maybe it was Time or Newsweek… but a big national magazine.  It was a color one pager with some mock football helmets and team names like the New York Kikes, Memphis Coons, and worse…etc etc… attempting to get people to see how offensive Braves and Redskins are as team names.  Here we are, must be 20 years later, with almost no action on that front.    

  7. bfitzinAR

    the back story – is probably pejorative as well but part of the problem is that what you grew up with is (emotionally speaking) always OK.  In that you don’t really see it in that kind of perspective.  I have lived long enough to remember when “darkie” “negro” “colored” and even “nigra” were considered polite and definitely not pejorative (according to the “colored lady” who basically helped raised me while my momma was one of those women bringing in a paycheck) although the last was iffy depending on how it was pronounced.  They are no longer acceptable.  If you are basically using representational magic to make your team be the fiercest around, naming them for peoples/animals/totem spirits known for fierceness is logical.  How does one do so without insulting said peoples/animals/totem spirits – especially as time changes and what was considered acceptable no longer is?  Again, I am well aware that “redskin” has never been a compliment and I’m not trying to say it is.  I’m just saying we fairly gormless white folks don’t always know when we’re being insulting if we don’t mean to be insulting.  It is, unfortunately, part of that “white privilege” some of the most privileged don’t believe in.

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