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McFeatters: Redskins name is the REALLY BIG issue in Washington

Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III scrambles away

Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III scrambles away from Detroit Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, right, in Landover, Md. (Sept. 22, 2013) Photo Credit: AP Photo Alex Brandon

"Sticks and stones will break my bones but names will never hurt me." Not if you've got good lawyers, they won't -- and Daniel Snyder has lots of good legal talent close at hand.

Snyder owns one of the most coveted pieces of real estate in the nation's capital, the owner's box at FedEx Field, where his pro football team plays -- not particularly well, except for a few short-lived appearances in the playoffs.

Doesn't matter. Washington LOVES this team (caps are a Snyder trademark). But its name is a problem (if you're overly politically correct, cover your eyes): the Washington Redskins, often shortened to 'Skins.

The Redskins were originally the Boston Braves. When they lost the use of that stadium, they moved to the home of the Boston Red Sox and became the Boston Redskins in 1933.

Supposedly, owner George Preston Marshall named them after the head coach, one William "Lone Star" Dietz, who "signed up a number of Indian players," the Boston Globe reported at the time. If so, it was a rare example of tolerance by an owner who was by all accounts a virulent racist, one reason for his move to semi-segregated Washington in 1937. Marshall was the last owner without a black player on his roster, only adding one in 1962.

Those who find the Redskins name offensive have demonstrated and sued. Two lawsuits are pending even now, one of which would remove trademark protection for the name. Certain broadcasters, sports columnists and newspapers have boycotted the name, and the Oneida Indian Nation has begun a media campaign against the team's use of Indian symbols.

Polls show about 80 percent of fans, including most American Indians, don't find the name that offensive. The team has eliminated some of its more excessive elements: Cheerleaders no longer wear braided black wigs, and some fight-song lyrics -- "scalp 'em, swamp 'em, we will take-um big score" -- have been changed.

Owner Snyder is adamant keeping about the name. In May, he told the press the team would "NEVER" change the name, adding, "You can use caps." This being Washington, the issue eventually rose to the level of the White House.

This past weekend, President Barack Obama weighed in, in typically cautious fashion, telling the Associated Press, "If I were the owner of the team and I knew that there was a name of my team -- even if it had a storied history -- that was offending a sizeable group of people, I'd think about changing it." The national default is looming, the economy teetering, the Mideast is on the brink of bloody chaos and the two main political parties are at each other's throats. But if our national capital has the time and energy to debate the name of its football team, how bad can things be, really?

Dale McFeatters is a senior writer for the Scripps Howard News Service.


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