Monday, September 16, 2013

A Team By Any Other Name Would Play as Sweet

The Washington Redskins came into Lambeau Field last night, bringing along their Vince Lombardi-inspired uniforms.

It was a great-looking game, from the scoreline to the uniform matchup.

Two uniform-related notes. First, running back Eddie Lacy was knocked out of the game in the first series with a concussion after a helmet-to-helmet hit from Brandon Meriweather (who later suffered his own concussion when he tried the same trick on Lacy's replacement James Starks). This means we're going to hear all about concussions, and how to prevent concussions, and which helmets protect best against concussions. Which will allow the press, players and league to keep sweeping the real issue under the table; namely, that concussions aren't the real problem.

The other note relates to the visitors. A group of about two dozen Native Americans, most from the Oneida Nation, gathered outside Lambeau Field to protest the use of the "Redskins" name.

This has bubbled under the surface for the last few decades, but really gained national prominence in recent weeks. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has backed down from his previously strong defense of the nickname; four months ago it was "a unifying force that stands for strength, courage, pride and respect", and today "If we are offending one person, we need to be listening and making sure that we're doing the right things to try to address that."

Closer to home, Packers CEO Mark Murphy (who played for Washington from 1977-1984) has made recent statements expressing a degree of support for the protestors' position. Everyone agrees that the decision to keep or change the nickname ultimately belongs with Washington owner Dan Snyder, but his defenders are becoming quieter as his opponents gain strength.

This issue shows no sign of going away. From the Atlanta Braves and their tomahawk chop to the Cleveland Indians' "Chief Wahoo" logo, the appropriation of native names and iconography by sports teams continues to be problematic at least.

I'm reminded that one of the original names considered for our Packers, way back in 1919, was the "Indians". That would be after "Indian Packing Company", Curly Lambeau's employer and sponsor of that first team.

Lambeau convinced his bosses to put up money for uniforms, and in return (whether part of the agreement or not) he named his team after the company.

Fortunately for us, Curly chose the second word in the company's name over the first. Of course, "Indians" might have been short-lived, as the meat packing plant was and purchased by the Acme Packing Company in 1920.

But who knows? If things had turned out just a little differently, we would be facing the same issue Snyder is today.

Now, "Redskins" is a pretty extreme example of the native-nickname controversy in sports, so the "Green Bay Indians" wouldn't be exactly the same. Still, I'm glad that we can honestly say our nickname really is a unifying force that stands for strength, courage, pride and respect.

1 comment:

Rusty Rayner said...

Next Norwegians will be protesting the Vikings! I think it is stupid - Leave the name the way it is.