Redskins name is overdue for change

Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder should take a cue from Saranac Lake.

In 2001, the Saranac Lake school board voted to drop Redskins as the school nickname. That decision culminated a vigorous community discussion prompted by students writing in the high school newspaper, The Echo.

It was much easier than most people would have predicted at the time. Very soon afterward, the old nickname felt like ancient history to those living around here. There are still a few Saranac Lake alumni who gripe about the decision, especially those who don’t live here anymore. Some even take it to the point of wearing Saranac Lake Redskins clothes and hats: Some are old leftovers while others were printed recently. But except for a small minority, people here haven’t looked back. They’re moving on as the Red Storm, the name students chose.

Therefore, this is the lesson Mr. Snyder can take from Saranac Lake: Changing the name is easy, but keeping it gets harder with every year that passes.

If the Saranac Lake school board hadn’t changed the name 13 years ago, it would have had to endure the pain of continuing racial controversy and the community division that would have pit neighbor against neighbor, and locals against the same outside groups that are putting pressure on the Washington National Football League team.

That pressure is needed because the name is offensive – more so than teams named “Indians,” “Chiefs,” “Braves” or “Warriors.”

Saranac Lake’s vote came at a meeting at which some local Native Americans gave a presentation, dressed in traditional garb, about why the word hurts them. Most powerfully, they explained that a “redskin” is not just about skin tone; it was the word for an Indian’s bloody scalp when, during much of our nation’s early history, bounties were being paid for such scalps as part of a widespread effort to exterminate Native people.

That story has been challenged – you can read about it on Wikipedia – but the wholesale slaughter of Natives is certainly true. It’s a shameful fact that we, as a nation, still haven’t properly acknowledged. Why continue to trumpet a racial term that calls to mind such horrors?

The word has faded from our national vocabulary and probably would have disappeared, except as an archaic slur, if not for a few football teams.

Because it’s offensive, it has no place in sports, just as Donald Sterling’s racist rants have no place among National Basketball team ownership.

It doesn’t matter how good the intentions of the people behind the team are – as bad as Mr. Sterling or as good as Saranac Lake. If it’s not hard to change it, there’s little excuse for not doing so. Saranac Lake made that clear, and it’s not like name changes are harder in the big leagues. Elsewhere in the NFL, the Houston Oilers moved to Tennessee and were renamed the Titans, and then Houston got a new team called the Oilers. In the NBA, the Bullets were renamed the Wizards to discourage D.C.’s violent crime problem. It’s not that big of a deal.

We admire the Oneida nation of New York for making a national campaign to convince Mr. Snyder to change the Washington team’s name. The Oneidas are doing so respectfully, and therefore they show Mr. Snyder to be disrespectful the more he refuses their request.

It’s only a nickname, certainly not worth going to the wall over.