Seeing Red over Indian Nicknames

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Life is good.

Summer is in full swing, the Trayvon/Zimmerman soap opera is finally fading away, government is probably reading only half our emails now, and the excitement of football is in the air.

Most important, though, is that America apparently has solved all of its problems. Otherwise, how could you possibly explain the fact that a cadre of congressman — both Republican and Democrat — recently sent a letter to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder, every league team, and Redskins sponsor FedEx urging them — demanding, actually — that the Redskins name be changed because it was so racially demeaning to Indians. Oops. Native Americans. Sorry.

Really? That’s the most dominant issue consuming our elected officials? Granted, if we had an Indian nickel for every boneheaded thing Congress does, we’d all be millionaires. But those congressmen need to be scalped for this one, and publicly admonished until they turn red-faced with embarrassment.

This is no time for peace pipes. We must, without reservation, not just hold down the fort but go to war with those riding roughshod over hallowed American traditions — fighting the people who love nothing more than to chop away at things no one actually finds offensive. As with most issues though, we lack a political chief brave enough to tackle this type of political correctness. The biggest irony? If a leader painted this picture as the insanity that it is, it wouldn’t be his last stand, but a feather in his cap, because the vast majority of Americans recognize that using Indian names isn’t offensive, but complimentary.

"Native Americans throughout the country consider the `R-word’ a racial, derogatory slur akin to the `N-word’ among African-Americans or the `W-word’ among Latinos," the congressional letter states.

OK, a little help on this one. Members of the United States Congress honestly think "Redskin" is akin to the N-word? That may not be the stupidest thing ever said, but it’s definitely top three. And the "W-word?" What the hell is that? Since there are a whole lot more derogatory names for Latinos, if you actually have to pause, pondering what the big "W" is (and I’m still not 100 percent sure), I’d say these folks are making up a problem where one doesn’t exist.

But of course, this insanity doesn’t end with the Redskins (though they seem to have it the worst, as they are also in a legal battle to maintain protection of their Redskins trademark. Thankfully, Snyder has, to this point, resisted the pressure and pledged to keep the name intact.

A recent debacle unfolded in New York as the Mets, who had worked for months with the American Indian Community House in planning a Native American Heritage day at the ballgame, abruptly canceled the event because — are you ready for this? — they were playing the Atlanta Braves! What playing the Braves has to do with canceling the event is any rational person’s guess, as is how anyone could find the festivities offensive in the first place.

A Mets spokesman said "… our multicultural days and nights are celebratory versus political in nature," though it remains unclear how Native American Heritage day is political. The result? No singing, no dancing, no Indians. So instead of celebrating a spectacular culture, opening the eyes of thousands to Native American traditions in a positive way, the people got nothing, and the Indians got tomahawked again.

While political correctness chalks up another win, how is that helpful in any way?

And it’s not just sports where this warped mentality is taking hold, but the classroom. Walk into any kindergarten during reading time, and you will see the children gathered ’round the teacher, all sitting "crisscross-applesauce" on the floor. That used to be called "Indian-style," but the PC gods had a pow-wow and determined that such a term was derogatory and racist, despite not a single child ever saying, "I sat Indian-style today, so I hate Native Americans."

Even worse than the assault on Indian names is when otherwise intelligent people give in so easily. St. John’s University was, and is, a top-notch school that had never been associated with institutional racism or bigotry of any kind, yet changed its team name from "Redmen" to "Red Storm." And if you’re going to cave, at least come up with a name that has meaning. Outside of the red storm on Jupiter (or is it Uranus?), what is a "Red Storm?"

Has it dawned on anyone to actually ask the forgotten people — aka the Indians themselves — if they feel offended? That doesn’t often happen, because when it does, turns out many tribes welcome the use of Native American names. A Sports Illustrated poll found that 83 percent of Native Americans have no problem with the use of Indian names and mascots for sports teams.

But that didn’t stop the deity known as the NCAA from imposing mandates several years ago to jettison Indian names, threatening severe sanctions for any school that kept names, logos, and mascots, as they were deemed "hostile and abusive." And if a university didn’t play ball? They would be banned from hosting post-season championships and face forfeiture of games, among other penalties.

Where does the craziness end? What’s next? Animal rights groups demanding Penn State eliminate the Nittany Lion because felines feel offended being identified with Jerry Sandusky? Don’t laugh, because that’s exactly the type of political correctness driving our country.

How can we expect to move forward as people when all we ever do is search for things which divide, rather than unite, us?

Were Indians considered low man on the totem pole, stripped of their land and human dignity — sometimes brutally — by early Americans? Without question, as atrocities committed against them were unspeakable. No reparations and no apology can ever fully right those wrongs.

But America, despite the errors of its past, has shown the most remarkable resilience of any nation in history not just to learn from its mistakes, but to make things right and yes, better, for future generations. We have seen triumphs for the descendants of the Irish and Italian immigrants who faced major discrimination; the Chinese who built the railroads under deplorable conditions; the Japanese interned during World War II; the blacks who were enslaved; and yes, Native Americans.

Rather than needlessly reopening old wounds, maybe those pushing political correctness to satisfy their own personal agendas should take a hard look at the everlasting tribute to Native Americans in the United States. What more of an honor could there be to the Indian values of hard work, conservation, respect of traditions, and pride than the fact that 28 states are named for Indian tribes or words as well as numerous professional sports teams (and at one time scores of colleges), and countless high schools and businesses?

It’s time to stop this foolishness, for if we don’t, it will not end with the Indians. Watch out, Fightin’ Irish.

Chris Freind is an independent columnist and commentator. His column appears every Wednesday. He can be reached at [email protected].