The R-word

Given all the crises this country faces (terrorism, debt, chronic unemployment, the unexplained end of global warming), don’t you think we have expended enough national angst on the name of the Washington football club?

Let’s stipulate that no one would ever name a team “Redskins” today. The name is jarring and certainly seems to have racist overtones. However, the name wasn’t chosen today. It was chosen 80 years ago, back in 1933, a year after the franchise began as the Boston Braves before moving to our nation’s capital as the Redskins.

One might complain that the name is similar to naming a team the “N-words,” but is it? I can’t imagine the owner of a professional team who had KKK-type sympathies naming his team something that in his heart he despises. No, I think it is fair to say that “Redskins” was chosen as a compliment, evoking the bold, warrior spirit that many people associate with Native American tribes–like the Blackhawks, the Illini, and so on.

Many if not most of the fans of the Washington football club aren’t bothered by the moniker. Anyone who has watched their team play has been serenaded by the throaty singing of the team’s fight song–“Hail to the Redskins! Hail victory!”–which has reverberated throughout the stadium. “Redskins” is no slur in their mouths.

But the name, Redskins, undeniably is offensive to many ears in 2013 in a way it wasn’t in 1933. You can chalk that up to a welcome sensitivity on such issues our nation has developed over the decades, or to a creeping political correctness that slowly but surely limits our choices, our freedom of expression, even our thoughts. I think it’s fair to say that if the name is changed, the agents of political correctness will not stop but will immediately look for their next victim. Giving in will only encourage them.

So ought Dan Snyder (Washington’s owner) and the National Football League give in to this sudden groundswell to rid our nation of the scourge of “Redskin”? If they want to. But I think two time-honored traditions from the field of law ought to be our guides: stare decisis and the statute of limitations. Stare decisis, of course, means “let it stand.” “Redskins” is established precedent now, with a long history and a range of meanings that have nothing to do with racism. There is no need to uproot the name at this late date.

And I think the statute of limitations ought to have run out by now on such silly, symbolic stances.

Will even one person in the entire nation be helped by yet another example of symbolism over substance? Of course not. Would that these advocates of political correctness dropped their virtue-on-the-cheap quest to get others to do the right thing and did something themselves. Instead of censoring speech, why don’t they, for example, build a school for underprivileged Native American children? Oh, but that would take work, wouldn’t it?

There’s an R-word we ought to keep in mind in all this, and it’s not “Redskins.” It’s “redemption,” which is what happens when something formerly dirty and of ill-repute is made into something clean and good. Could that happen with the word “Redskins”? I think so.

About Stan Guthrie

Stan Guthrie is an editor at large for Christianity Today magazine and for the Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview. His latest book is God's Story in 66 Verses. He also is author of All that Jesus Asks: How His Questions Can Teach and Transform Us, Missions in the Third Millennium: 21 Key Trends for the 21st Century, and A Concise Guide to Bible Prophecy. He is co-author of The Sacrament of Evangelism. Besides authoring, writing, and editing books, Stan is a literary agent, bringing together good authors, good books, and good publishers. Stan writes the monthly Priorities colum for He has appeared on National Public Radio's €œTell Me More,€ WGN's Milt Rosenberg program, and many Christian shows, including The Eric Metaxas Show and Moody Radio'€™s €œNew Day Florida.€ A licensed minister and an inspirational speaker, he served as moderator for the Christian Book Expo panel discussion, Does the God of Christianity Exist, and What Difference Does It Make?
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