David Zirin, sports editor of The Nation and a longtime critic of stereotypical Native American team names and imagery, takes a swipe at the name and owner of the Washington football team in a new book.
We Own the Future: Democratic Socialism – American Style is a collection of essays, edited by Kate Aronoff, Peter Drier and Michael Kazin, in which a number of authors explore how socialists of the Bernie Sanders/Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez stripe might change America if they found themselves in power. The essays look at the usual front-page issues – economic inequality, racism, policing, climate change, immigration, workers’ rights – as well as a contribution by Zirin on a “socialist” vision of sports.
In his essay, Zirin takes on cities’ sports-stadium giveaways to rich team owners, the exploitation of college athletes, the commercialization of children’s sports, and the persecution of athletes such as Colin Kaepernick who embrace activism along with their athleticism. But he saves his strongest language for a discussion of the persistence of Native team names and mascots, especially as practiced by the team owned by Daniel Snyder.
If sports and play are truly going to be a place for all, they can’t also be a place where people are marginalized on the basis of race. That’s why any movement for better sports should also, as a point of pride, stand against all Native American mascotry.
Zirin points to a study – cited in a recent report issued by Rebrand Washington Football -- from the American Psychiatric Association documenting how Native children are harmed by mascots that appropriate and stereotype their heritages. He then turns his attention to the worst offender:
For decades, Native American activists and allies have fought to get the R**skins [in the book he spells out the word] to change the name. For decades, they have argued that it is a demeaning insult. For decades, they have argued that it is the dishonorable product of the team’s original owner, George Preston Marshall, an archsegregationist with a love of minstrelsy whose team was the last in the NFL to sign African American players.
Snyder, the current owner, has refused to listen to these arguments. “He is a plutocratic brute,” Zirin writes, who “disparages and punishes members of the media who take him to task. A mass people’s movement should see eradicating his bigotry as a central task.”
A movement, if not yet a mass one, of Native groups and their allies continues to pressure the team to change its name. Despite Snyder’s claims that the public and even Natives don’t care about the name, continued protests and agitation argue otherwise. As Snyder stubbornly digs in, sports teams across the country – mostly high schools, but a few colleges – have gotten the message and ditched Native names and mascots. With outspoken journalists such as Zirin helping to keep the issue before the public, the racist name of the Washington team and other Native names and imagery get pushed a little closer to the rubbish heap of history.