Opinion | Sports

Bruce Anderson: Washington team name preserves stereotypes

Bruce Anderson. Photo from Marshfield High School Athletics

Bruce Anderson, a member of the Coquille Tribe who used to play for the Washington NFL team, isn't proud of the name he once supported:
Back in 1970, I was proud to be a Washington Redskin. To me, at that time, being a Redskin embodied the image of Native Americans as tough, brave and persevering. Sportswriters would write that we “scalped” or “tomahawked” an opponent, after we “powwowed” on the field and “beat our war drums.” It was a positive but wrong depiction of my life. My highest achievement as an athlete came at the cost of me not representing who I really was.

Back at home, we were “Coquille” or “Coos” — an acknowledgement of our connection to Coos Bay, Ore. — not “Indians,” and especially not “redskins.” My family members were among those who gathered for meetings to restore our tribe’s sovereign standing, which had been terminated by the federal government in 1954. Then there were all the gatherings at which we would eat shellfish, salmon, deer and elk, and the kids would play in the surf and climb the rocks around Sunset Bay. If those sportswriters had wanted to depict my reality and not some stereotype, they would have written things like, “We bored the competition into submission with meetings,” “we stuffed them to their gills with food” or “we caught them as the tide came in.”

As for the word “redskin” itself, it’s really more of a red herring. Some problems:

• It wrongly attributes a pan-Indian sheen to my ancestry. It makes all tribes seem like one, which is anything but the case. I am no more Oneida, Lakota, Hopi, Hualapai or Cherokee than I am Korean. I am Coquille.

• It confuses my race with a brand name. Would it be okay to have the Washington African Americans? Or the Washington Jews? There is no right word for an entire race or religion when it comes to naming a sports team. (And if there were, I would add, “redskin” would be far from it.)

• Is that guy on the helmet supposed to be me? How does that image affect indigenous kids who look nothing like that? He’s more like the stereotype of the noble savage than any real person I know.

Get the Story:
Bruce Anderson: Washington NFL team’s name only preserves Native American stereotypes (The Washington Post 9/13)

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