Adam Lazarus is the author of Hail to the Redskins: Gibbs, the Diesel, the Hogs, and the Glory Days of D.C.'s Football Dynasty. The following column is the author's note at the beginning of the book in which Lazarus addresses the volatile topic of the Redskins' nickname:
When the controversy surrounding the Washington Redskins' nickname hit full stride last year, my editor, Peter Hubbard, suggested taking on the issue in a prefatory note. Tensions over such prominent, widespread use of a team name -- believed by many to be derogatory of Native Americans -- have become too large and omnipresent to ignore.
A 2014 Langer Research poll conducted for ESPN's investigative program Outside the Lines found that the number of Americans who supported the Redskins' nickname had decreased considerably: 71 percent (of the 1,019 Americans polled) approved of keeping the name. Twenty-two years earlier, a similar poll found that 89 percent favored keeping the name.
Recently, the federal government has also entered the debate. In May, fifty members of the United States Senate wrote letters to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, endorsing a name change. A month later, the United States Patent and Trademark Office canceled the Washington Redskins' trademark, declaring it "disparaging to Native Americans."
Even the president of the United States weighed in on the issue.
"If I were the owner of the team and I knew that there was a name of my team -- even if it had a storied history -- that was offending a sizeable group of people, I'd think about changing it," Barack Obama told the Associated Press in October 2013.
As I started reviewing my own stance on the name, I thought of an exchange between two characters from one of my favorite television shows, The West Wing.
Early in the episode entitled "The State Dinner," the fictional presidential administration's press secretary, C.J. Cregg (played by Allison Janney), learns about a public relations matter that crops up. At nearby Lafayette Park a group had protested the White House's sizeable collection of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century vermeil tableware made of silver and gold. In explaining the protestors' cause to the White House press corps, Cregg says that the workers who crafted the vermeil "were blinded by the mercury while making these pieces. Louis XV would melt them down to pay for his wars against his people. So, in general, they're seen in some circles as a symbol of a government's bloody and tyrannical oppression of its own people."
Later, Cregg approaches the administration's First Lady, Abbey Bartlet (Stockard Channing), hoping to defuse the minor situation. Mrs. Bartlet responds to Cregg's inquiry by saying, "It's our history. Better or for worse, it's our history. We're not going to lock it in the basement or brush it with a new coat of paint; it's our history."
Essentially, this is how I feel about the Redskins' name.
At the simplest level I think the name is problematic, if not offensive. The spirit behind the name is not hateful or racist; it's just a remnant of an era and worldview that have both passed.
Furthermore, a large number of citizens believe the name is degrading or ugly and, therefore, it should be changed. Many of those people are intelligent, respected members of the media, who don't have anything to gain or lose based on the nickname of a sports team.
I can certainly empathize with those who believe there are more important issues in this country than the name of a football team. And I can equally empathize with those who believe political correctness and sensitivity have run amok in our society. There’s truth to both of those claims.
Personally, I think a name change is the right thing to do, but I'm not a vehement, passionate supporter. This issue will never go away unless the team name "Redskins" is abandoned, so I'm in favor of ending the controversy, not necessarily changing the name.
A smart, rational debate over this topic could fill up every single page of this book. But I think these pages are better used for celebrating and remembering the glory days of the franchise.
Doing so without use of the word "Redskins," however, would be historically inaccurate, clumsy, and ultimately absurd. During the years in which this true story takes place, roughly 1981 through 2007, the professional football team in Washington was known as the Redskins, so I refer to that team and those players as "Redskins."
To do otherwise would be locking a piece of history in the basement or brushing it with a new coat of paint.
-- Excerpted by permission from Hail to the Redskins: Gibbs, the Diesel, the Hogs, and the Glory Days of D.C.'s Football Dynasty by Adam Lazarus. Copyright (c) 2015. Published by William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Available for purchase from the publisher, Amazon, IndieBound and iTunes. Follow Adam Lazarus on Twitter @lazarusa57.