Some issues are complex. Nuanced. Gray.
For me, this one isn’t.
At roughly $4 million per 30-second slot, this ad never had a chance of making the airwaves during Super Bowl XLVIII. But you should watch it anyway.
Created by the National Congress of American Indians, the ad touches on the rich history of Native American communities. It mentions iconic figures like Sitting Bull, Hiawatha, Jim Thorpe, and Will Rogers. It highlights many aspects of Native American identity: Proud. Forgotten. Survivor. Mother. Father. Son. Daughter. Underserved. Struggling. Resilient.
“Native Americans call themselves many things,” the narrator concludes. One thing they don’t call themselves, however, is Redskin.
Yes, the Washington Redskins’ mascot has been around for more than 80 years. Yes, it would be costly to change it. (After all, the NFL is just your everyday 501(c) nonprofit, right?) No, Washington’s football team isn’t the only one with a controversial Indian mascot that needs changing.
But these are diversions. Excuses.
A friend of mine who shared the video on Facebook asked what I think is the one question that really matters:
Would you feel comfortable calling a Native American this name to their face?
Assuming the answer is no (and it should be), isn’t that an implicit acknowledgement that the term “Redskin” is racist?
Then why do almost 80 percent of Americans think the Redskins should keep their team name? Is it because we don’t like asking difficult questions? Because we never stop long enough to view the issue from someone else’s perspective?
Of course, changing a team mascot won’t end the problem of racism. It won’t address every grievance that Native Americans have or right every wrong that’s been done to them. In reality, a name change seems like a drop in the bucket when it’s weighed against our country’s history of injustice, discrimination, displacement, and outright slaughter of Native Americans.
As far as changes go, this one is more symbolic than structural. But symbolic change still matters. It can still make a difference. It sends a signal that some things are no longer OK. (Not that they ever were.) It’s like a signpost directing us to a different path — one it’s well past time we took.
The only potential downside to changing Indian team names is if someone thinks that doing so will automatically eliminate racism, much like some people thought electing a black president meant we had overcome our troubled history of slavery and segregation. It’s only one step in the journey. But it’s an important step… and it’s time we took it.