The Merriam-Webster dictionary says the term "Redskin" is "very offensive and should be avoided."
Some feel just the opposite, saying it is a term of endearment for the Native American people. Case in point is the battle being waged by Washington's professional football organization to retain its 'Redskins' trademark. Other sports teams are watching this case, including the Atlanta Braves, Cleveland Indians, Kansas City Chiefs and Chicago Blackhawks.
The Redskin name has even divided an eastern Pennsylvania school district. In Bucks County last week, the Neshimany High School school board approved a new policy that forbids the school newspaper – "The Playwickian" – from banning the word "Redskins" when referring to its sports teams or controversial mascot. Last October, the newspaper staff voted to ban the word, calling it a racial slur.
Two months later, the school principal said the newspaper wasn't allowed to do that. The student staff members will speak to their own counsel, obtained through the Student Press Law Center, before deciding on their next move.
On the national level, the National Congress of American Indians said in a brief filed in its lawsuit that the name Redskins is a slur to Native Americans and fuels the old stereotype of labeling Native Americans as 'blood-thirsty savages,' and as an ethnic group 'frozen in history.'
Defenders say it is not insulting and on the contrary, invokes a sense of pride for the Native American people since a "red skin" is a brave and mighty warrior. Washington Redskins owner George Preston Marshall chose the name in 1932 partly to honor the head coach, William "Lone Star" Dietz, who was known as an Indian.
There are even Native American schools with sports teams named Redskins. In Northeast Arizona, the high school football team on the Navajo Nation reservation is the Red Mesa Redskins.
Tommy Yazzie, superintendent, doesn't think it's an issue and says there are more important challenges like busing, water, air and land issues facing his district.
"In its pure form, a lot of Native American men, you go into the sweat lodge with what you've got your skin. I don't see it as derogatory," Yazzie said.
We wonder if those who are so focused on being politically correct over a school name are also offended by the thousands of fans at Atlanta Braves baseball and Florida State football games who, in trying to rally their team, sing their wordless chant while simulating a tomahawk chop.
There are those who feel that "playing Indian" at these games not only looks and sounds ridiculous, but it disrespects Native Americans.
By Jim Zbick