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Insensitive names serve no purpose

Thursday, September 26, 2013 - Updated: 7:20 AM

The Oneida Indian Nation's latest campaign pressing for the NFL's Washington Redskins to rid itself of a name that is offensive and demeaning resurrects an issue that should have been settled long ago. "We do not deserve to be called redskins," Oneida Nation Representative Ray Halbritter said in an ad scheduled to air on radio stations in Washington. "We deserve to be treated as what we are -- Americans."

It's time to put this matter to rest. There is absolutely no justification for calling any team, club, group or otherwise by any name offensive to an ethnicity or race. The arguments to preserve such names are tired and lame.

* "Such nicknames and logos honor a great people." Really? The Cleveland Indians' Chief Wahoo -- a goofy caricature with a toothy grin, triangular eyes and a feather sprouting from its head -- bears absolutely no resemblance to Geronimo, Cochise, Black Hawk, Thayendanegea, Skenandoa, Corn-planter, Pontiac, Red Cloud, Tecumseh, Sitting Bull or any other proud Native American leader, past or present. Would Poles, Italians, African-Americans, Irish or other people with a proud heritage be "honored" by teams using some of the derogatory labels they've been given through the years? Not likely.

* "Why does everything have to be politically correct?" It doesn't. It just has to be correct. Native Americans aren't mascots. They're a proud people with a rich history.

* "It's tradition." Tradition. Shmadition. Sometimes, tradition changes; usually for the better. Ask the kids in Canajoharie (but not Fonda).

Redskins owner Dan Snyder was adamant, if not arrogant and downright ignorant, about the issue. He told USA Today back in May that he wouldn't change the team's name, no matter how many people he insulted.

In the ad, Halbritter said NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell should "stand up to bigotry" by denouncing "the racial slur" in the team's name. But Goodell actually defended the nasty nickname last June in a letter to 10 members of Congress who had urged him to reject it. He said the name is "a unifying force that stands for strength, courage, pride and respect."

Really? It seems Goodell has a double standard when it comes to racial slurs. He criticized Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Riley Cooper this past summer for uttering a racial epithet against African-Americans, yet says the name "Redskins" stands for "pride and respect." Wow.

Maybe the Oneida Indian Nation is asking the wrong generation to fix what's broken here. While the Oneidas will certainly get more national publicity by going after the NFL, perhaps it'd be better to start right here in central New York, where honorable young people at one high school thumbed their nose at tradition and did the right thing.

Earlier this year, Cooperstown students decided to change their nickname -- also the "Redskins" -- after they found it offensive. The same decision was made a handful of years ago in Canajoharie, where the Redskins became the Cougars, thanks to some forward thinking and a contest to come up with a new name.

But at least a half dozen other regional schools (including the Fonda-Fultonville Braves) still cling to logos and names -- "Red Raiders," "Eskimos," "Warriors" and "Indians" -- when other names would be much more appropriate. They should follow Canajoharie's and Cooperstown's lead.

By doing so, they'd honor another tradition -- the proud legacy of Native Americans in Central New York. Maybe the NFL could learn a lesson.

-- The Utica Observer Dispatch


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