The origin of my last name actually just comes from a more Norwegian-sounding pronunciation of a word pairing that to some American naturalization officer sounded like “Buckeye”. The name was supposed to be Bukk Oy, or Island of the Male Goats. But for a period of time in college, I joked with those less familiar with my last name’s origins that it was actually an Ojibwe Indian name (and that I was still waiting on that casino money). The irony is that as pale-skinned as me and most of my family is, my grandpa (on my Mom’s side) said he actually has reason to believe that we are part Native American. And you can definitely see a slightly darker pigment in him and my little sister than you might expect if they were strictly descended from northern Europeans. And I guess it makes me about 1/32 to 1/64 Native American. Which earns me absolutely nothing.
It’s such a small part that it doesn’t even get one day out of each month. But the part of a morning that I did give it some time last week told me something interesting regarding the recent debate over the Washington Redskins’ name change debate. It said that it was a little offended. This is genuinely surprising to me, because for the most part, I wasn’t offended by the name. In fact, everything about my demographic has been immune to repression over the years; White, male, blond-haired, blue-eyed.
And while I haven’t been too much in favor of it ever, the part of me that wasn’t against it rationalized it in a very simple way. It’s about money. The Washington Redskins, a very successful NFL brand, have been making money off their moniker for many generations- and there simply hasn’t been an organization with enough political or monetary sway to take them down. The Washington Bullets (arguably a less-offensive name) changed their name to the Wizards in large part because the NBA is a less-successful league and the Bullets a much less successful franchise.
I don’t understand why there hasn’t been a bigger uproar about how racist the Cleveland Indians franchise is, actually. Not even their name so much, which is ironically pretty politically correct at this point- I have it on good authority that they prefer American Indians to Native Americans anyway[i]- but rather their logo of Chief Wahoo, which is a ridiculous and downright offensive caricature. But while their logo might be insensitive, the name itself is pretty innocuous, if inaccurate.
Now I would usually say in this particular case, “Why doesn’t Congress find something more important to do?” Yet the first thing they might respond with is “There’s enough Congresspeople to take care of most of these things.” It’s important not only for the country’s view of itself that it do right by one of its most marginalized demographics, but also for other countries’ view of us. Cowboys and Indians are one of the things that other powerful countries like Germany most closely associate with us. And let’s be honest our own reputation in the human rights category isn’t completely spotless, either. On top of it all, this should be something American football strives to improve, if it wants to improve its stature in the world as a whole.
The part of the name that did make sense was mostly in how it connected to one of its biggest rivals. Everyone makes a connection between Cowboys and Indians, and the fact that a franchise named after the latter was huge rivals with one named the former had a really nice ring to it. Given their lack of geographical proximity, it could even be argued that their shared name theme was what made them rivals in the first place. I don’t want an NFL whose nicknames don’t pay homage to the history and spirit of this country.[ii]
So under the right circumstances, I think the ‘Skins should be allowed to keep the overall theme of their team nickname. It would save them having to change most of their color and logo scheme, and pay homage to the history of their team, while acknowledging that “mistakes were made”. The first and most common sense thing to do would be to turn to the local tribes and lobby groups for the Indians and ask what they would recommend. Perhaps Braves, or even Indians. But I have a better idea. Name it after a semi-local tribe. The Algonquins, let’s say. Then you could call them the ‘Quins for short!