All this talk about the Redskins name—which inevitably comes up when the team starts winning—got me thinking. I’ve already posed my hypothetical situation here. It involves compensation from the league and I don’t see that happening. But even if it did, I don’t want the name to change. I’d like to tell you why, but to do so, I need to start with a story.
About ten years ago or so, when Julia and I were dating, the subject of card games came up. Unlike me, she grew up playing card games with her extended family. We talked about a lot of games—some of which I knew and some I didn’t—and for some reason, we went off on a tangent to joke card games.
“Like Cowboys and Indians,” Julia said.
“What’s that?” I asked.
“Well you get out a deck of cards, and you ask the person if they want to be the cowboy or the indian. When they say ‘cowboy,’ you shoot the cards all over the room and say ’round ’em up, pardner!'”
So another version of 52 Pickup. But I had one question.
“What if they pick ‘indian’?”
Julia shook her head. “No one ever picked ‘indian’.”
There’s a reason why I didn’t play “Cowboys and Indians” growing up. I lived in the suburbs of Washington D.C. and the Redskins were our home team. Sure, their were a few “bandwagoners,”, but most of us hated the Dallas Cowboys. We would never, ever pick “cowboy.”
And when you get something like that ingrained in you from an early age, it changes how you see the world. Cowboys were heroes to most Americans. They were the good guys in the old movies. Kids everywhere played with cowboy hats and toy six-shooters. It was the romanticism of the Old West. It’s no wonder the Dallas Cowboys got away with calling themselves “America’s Team” for so long. They had those big stars on their helmets. They even wore white.
And their archrivals? The bad guys of the Old West. The “indians”—otherwise known as the Redskins.
I grew up to see the world differently, and I think at the start it was because I identified with the Redskins instead of the Cowboys. I rooted for them on the football field and after awhile I rooted for them in the movies too. I didn’t like it when the “indians” in these films were portrayed as savages. They weren’t the villains, not to me anyway. They were noble and heroic, and they were fighting for a way of life that was being taken away from them. They were the underdogs, and I identified with and rooted for the underdog.
As I got older I learned just how true that gut feeling was. How Native Americans were the victims not the villains. And the cowboys—not the honest cattlemen, some of whom were Natives themselves, but glamorized cowboys of the Old West—were the symbols of Manifest Destiny, broken promises, and trails of tears.
It wasn’t them, of course. It was the Federal Government egged on by people hungry for more and more land. But the cowboy was the symbol of their villainy.
I might not have felt that way if I hadn’t grown up rooting for the Washington Redskins. I might have picked “cowboys” over “indians” like all those kids in Julia’s elementary school did.
I would have rooted for the so-called heroes, but instead I identify with the underdogs. I could have sided with the oppressors, but instead I stand with the oppressed. And all because of a name.
I’m not a Cowboy, I’m a Redskin. I always will be, and I want the team to keep its name.