Discussion about the name of Washington D.C.’s National Football League team has been in the news recently. It surfaced again last week when 10 members of Congress sent a letter to the team asking that its name be changed. Team owner Daniel Snyder has said, “We will never change the name.”
I certainly have an opinion about this. A lot of people do. Maybe even most people do. This is very interesting to me. These opinions aren’t so much about sports and team identity. The opinions seem to have more to do with tradition on the one hand and a combination of guilty conscience and social justice on the other.
This hits home for us here in Goshen: Our high school uses the same team name as Washington.
I think the reason this debate about use of Native American images and terms continues to swirl around the country, from the national level to the local level, is because — regardless of opinion on the issue — we all have some fundamental discomfort with the history of what was done to the native peoples of this continent. The way our ancestors treated them, what our ancestors did to them, does not square very well with our preferred mythologies about who and what we are in this country.
One way to react to this troubling history is to honestly say, “We were the winners. They were the losers. We get to use names and images as we want to — that’s always been part of the spoils of victory.”
This is painful, but true.
Another way to react has been to adopt and memorialize certain qualities — identities, names — of native peoples with the intention that this honors their past and current presence among us, that we don’t wish to erase them from the land.
And yet another way to react to this uncomfortable history is by carefully looking at the reality, hearing the stories and recognizing that doing so might change some things.