At first face, the persistence of those who want the Redskins to change their name seems admirable. Neither Daniel Snyder nor Redskins fans appear to be budging at all. Nevertheless, the protesters keep pressing and continue to pick up supporters, Phil Simms and Tony Dungy for example.
For the sake of argument, let’s assume the protesters are right. Say that “Redskin” is a horribly degrading epithet, like “nigger,” “spic,” or “wop.” The movement to change the name continues to gain steam, and somebody convinces Daniel Snyder or the next owner to change the name. What happens next? There are parties in the street. The protesters congratulate each other and get lots of good press from the media. Perhaps the few Native Americans who found “Redskins” offensive are interviewed and talk about how much they like the change. And then the next 24-hour news cycle takes over.
Beyond the name, what has actually changed? Nothing, at least regarding life for Native Americans. The name change has not resulted in any reduction in alcoholism, drug abuse, teen pregnancy, unemployment, suicide, high school dropout rates, or any other social ill on Indian reservations. For hundreds of thousands (millions?), life will be just as wretched as before.
Given the very real problems that cause actual misery, pain and death for Native Americans, what would be more admirable for the Redskins protesters to do would be to help them to overcome some of these problems. Perhaps they could start Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous chapters on the reservations. Or the businessmen among the protesters could mentor Native Americans in starting businesses and developing sustainable economies on the reservations. Others could help fathers and husbands learn to connect with their families and stop the cycle of family dysfunction that spiritually and psychologically cripples the next generation.
If the protesters gave real help to Native Americans and challenged Redskins fans to do the same, there wouldn’t be victory parties with dancing in the streets. There would be very few, if any, television interviews. There wouldn’t be a single moment when everybody could declare victory and go home.
However, life would be a lot better for some Native Americans. More of their children could go to bed in a house with both their mother and their father sleeping under the same roof. More would finish school and successfully provide for themselves and their families, giving the next generation some hope. Somehow, that just seems better than the symbolic victory of a name change.
Redskins protesters, if you want to do Native Americans some good, do the hard work that will actually make life better for some of them. If not, just keep doing what you’re doing and smile for the cameras.