The Edmonton Eskimos is no more. It was a Canadian football team, until it announced last week it would drop the name it has used since 1949, responding to years of complaints from at least some people that the name was offensive to Inuits, who many of us erroneously refer to under the blanket name Eskimos.
Interestingly, the Canadian government in 1982 made use of the word illegal. Apparently, the football team was grandfathered.
The news from Canada follows a similar announcement from the former Washington Redskins. That team was founded in 1932 as the Boston Braves. A year later, it change its name to the Redskins and, in 1937, moved to its current home in the nation’s capital.
In some ways, the team names potentially show the most respect to pre-Americans since White Europeans arrived in 1492. After all, which football team would possibly take for itself a name signifying a people destined to lose virtually every attempt to retain possession of its homeland.
The term “Redskins” reportedly has roots dating back to the 1700s. A 2005 report by Smithsonian Institution researcher Ives Goddard notes a dictionary mention of a letter penned in 1699 by Samuel Smith of Hadley, Mass. in which Smith noted “Ye firste Meetinge House was solid mayde to withstande ye wicked onsaults of ye Red Skins.” Smith was clear that he was referring to an enemy which “wee can do naught but fight em & that right heavily.”
The title clearly was not intended as complimentary by white interpreters.
On the other hand, later documentation seems to reveal First Americans using the colors “red” and “white” to refer to themselves and the immigrant Europeans, respectively. Both words seem generally to have been convenient conversational shorthand rather than derogatory epithets.
Goddard reported the earliest examples of “redskin” in use by indigenous people and later adopted in English. He quotes a transcript of a meeting in which a native chief named “Mosquito” invited an English Col. John Wilkins to visit the native’s village for continued talks. “I shall be pleased to have you come to speak to me yourself … and, if any redskins do you harm, I shall be able to look out for you even at the peril of my life,” Mosquito reportedly told the soldier.
Whatever the earliest interpretations of the term, those of us who lived through 1950s “cowboys and Indians” television can well remember that the word took on a generally accepted air of denigration. It was commonly mentioned in company with adjectives such as “drunken,” “thieving” and “savage.”
National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell, apparently waking after a decades-long nap, suddenly has become aware that that some people are offended being referred to as “Redskins.” An “important step,” he said recently, would be to consider a new name for the Washington team.
So the Washington Redskins shall be known, at least temporarily, as the Washington Football Team and the Edmonton footballers, likewise hindered by short notice, will call themselves the Edmonton Football Team.
Which brings us to the local high school football team, known as the Warriors, for whom the name is made questionable by the arrowhead that is the team’s defining logo.
I wonder how they would fare if their symbol were, say, a U.S. Navy warship, a guided missile cruiser named USS Gettysburg (CG-64), with clear ties to the community and regular, always favorable, publicity for the eponymous town. And instead of images of a peoples our ancestors tried to obliterate, the image would be of a force bound to protect our entire nation.
How many football teams have a US Navy warship as a namesake?
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