Growing up in Indian-apolis, going to watch baseball at Bush Stadium was one of my favorite things. I loved everything about Bush, even the decrepit teepee sitting out behind a chain link fence in center field.
My dad informed me the Indians used to have a guy dressed up as an Indian come out and do a dance whenever the Indians hit a home run. I never saw the dance, but even as a kid in the 1970s, I kind of squirmed, thinking how embarrassing this would have been to all concerned.
The Indianapolis Indians apparently thought so too, canceling the performance after part of one season, in the early 1960s, according to Chicago Sun Times writer Dave Hoekstra, who wrote about efforts to reclaim parts of the now-defunct Bush.
The demise of the Indianapolis Indian is one reason why the endless debate over the Washington Redskins’ name is so incredible.
Long, long after society has moved on from most racial stereotypes, there is still a debate over the use of an ethnic slur as a football team nickname.
I can appreciate the team owner, Dan Snyder, having concerns over the effect of rebranding the team, particularly since they’re not very good. A name change would massively foul up the team’s marketing revenue.
But it’s embarrassing, in the same way the center-field war dancer was, to hear Snyder talk about how the first coach of the Redskins was an Indian (the coach was not an Indian) and about how he’s nostalgic about the team, as if it would be impossible to distinguish between his nostalgia for the team and his nostalgia for the team’s name.
Team names come and go. The Cincinnati Reds used to be the Red Stockings.
At some point in the 1880s, men ceased to call their legwear “stockings,” and the word became synonymous with women’s hosiery. So the Red Stockings became the Reds (apart from operating for five seasons in the 1950s as the Redlegs). Somewhere, there is probably someone who thinks the change was stupid.
People point to public opinion polls to suggest the Redskins name is fine, including a 10-year-old poll of people who answered landline phones and “self-identified” as Native Americans. The same year, Sports Illustrated conducted a poll on roughly the same question, with diametrically opposite results.
The poll results are a smokescreen for the simple fact no sports team today, whether a high school, a college or a professional team, would willingly choose “Redskins” as its nickname. The public doesn’t want to use the nickname, in the same way it doesn’t want a center-field war dance.
It’s funny this is even being discussed, because the Redskins organization took steps, long ago, to disassociate itself from the crude racism of former owner George Preston Marshall, the man who saddled the team with the nickname. Take a look at the original 1937 lyrics to the song, “Hail to the Redskins,” which has words written by Marshall’s wife.
Hail to the Redskins!
Braves on the warpath!
Fight for Old D.C.!
Scalp ’em, swamp ’um
We will take ’um big score
Read ’um, Weep ’um, touchdown
We want heap more
Fight on, fight on, till you have won
Sons of Washington
Rah! Rah! Rah!
The lyrics were changed more than 30 years ago. Maybe it’s time the Redskins made another change, and figured out a new name.
Scott Smith is Kokomo Tribune reporter. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.