If I May: The Complexity of Mascots

On Monday, Amherst College officially (and finally) announced its first-ever official mascot: the Mammoths. This change comes on the heels of the student body’s majority decision to reject the college’s long-time unofficial mascot, the Lord Jeff, because of Lord Jeffrey Amherst’s terrible and inhumane treatment of Native Americans. However, in terms of national attention, the controversy over the Lord Jeff is small potatoes compared to the argument over the Washington D.C. football team’s name.

You’ll notice that I did not even use the word that is Washington D.C.’s nickname. In my daily life — where, admittedly, discussion of the D.C. football team comes up relatively infrequently — I try not to use the name of the team. However, for the purposes of this article, it is necessary to use the word. The Washington D.C. football team’s name is the Redskins. Their logo is a caricature of a Native American man with dark burgundy skin.

Of course, this team name is offensive and incredibly problematic. First of all, the word “redskin” is literally a racial slur used to describe Native Americans. When we would discuss this at home, my dad would always make the point that if Matt Lauer described a group of Native Americans as “redskins” during a segment on the “Today Show,” he should and would likely be suspended and perhaps lose his job. The fact that a word that is incredibly inappropriate to say in conversation is the nickname of one of the most popular NFL franchises is preposterous. It seems like an obvious decision to change it and, much like the Lord Jeff, it seems like it should have been changed long ago.

Of course, there is a great deal of backlash against changing the mascot. Many fans of the team do not want to get rid of the “Redskins” moniker, claiming that it is not meant as an insult but rather as a celebration of Native American culture. Furthermore, many fans balk at the idea of removing a symbol that has defined an important part of Washington D.C.’s culture. There is a part of me that understands these sentiments. It is true that the tradition associated with a beloved team’s name can feel important and necessary to preserve. But I also believe that many fans of Washington’s team both lack and don’t care to achieve an understanding of the plight of Native Americans in this country, and simply think of the “Redskin” as an abstract mascot.

This ignorance has gone on for long enough. It is clear that the team’s owner, Daniel Snyder, is not going to change the team’s name. So, I think it is time for the powers that be — the NFL’s administration — to take matters into their own hands and declare that they will no longer allow for a blatantly offensive name to represent one of their marquee franchises. It’s time for Washington D.C.’s football team to find a new name.