Op-Ed: The problem with the ‘R’ word? A Muskogee/Creek Indian explains it all for you

Quarterback Kirk Cousins during a game against the Seattle Seahawks at FedExField Landover, Md.
(Patrick Smith / Getty Images)

As a mixed-blood Muscogee/Creek Indian, I would like to commend Washington, D.C.'s professional football team on its tasteful logo. The American Indian in profile with two eagle feathers is dignified and respectful.

I would also like to assure the people of Cleveland that I take no umbrage at the dignified name of their professional baseball team: the Indians. And I wish to offer an olive branch to the Atlanta Braves, the Florida State Seminoles and the University of Illinois Illini; hell, even the makers of the Jeep Cherokee.

But Florida State, while I don’t mind you conscripting that great Seminole leader Osceola as your mascot, to have him appear in war paint, menacingly brandishing a spear, demeans a great statesman (imagine a University of Pennsylvania team called the Founders having as its mascot Benjamin Franklin pointing a musket). And that “tomahawk chop” incessantly trotted out by the FSU fans discredits all Indians, not to mention the reputation of Florida State.

People of Cleveland, do you not see the difference between the team name, Indians, and the cartoonish and racist Chief Wahoo caricature that graces every Indians cap, pennant and sweatshirt? Would it kill you to just put a capital “C” on your caps and coffee mugs and get rid of the hook-nosed, buck-toothed disgrace of a logo?


Atlanta, thank you for finally putting to rest the buffoonish Chief Noc-a-Homa. Getting rid of your racist mascot clearly didn’t impair the Braves’ winning ways —15 division titles, five National League titles and a World Series win since you canned that white guy in the tepee who used to dance Gangnam style after every home run.

Which brings me back to the Redskins, of course.

Apparently, the reason most American Indians don’t accept the term “redskin” needs some explaining. Aside from the fact that the word is almost always used in the pejorative sense, it has been applied to us by others, just like “Orientals” or “gypsies.” Asians don’t call themselves Orientals; Roma didn’t come up with “gypsies” and no Indian has ever, or will ever, think of himself as a redskin.

No, it is not as offensive to us as the “N” word is to African Americans (and should be to everyone else too). But does degree really matter here?


Many people, including ESPN’s just-retired columnist Rick Reilly, seem perplexed by the uproar. Reilly wrote that the name was no big deal and quoted his own father-in-law, a mixed-blood Blackfoot, who deemed it “silly.” A few weeks later, Reilly’s father-in-law angrily denied having said any such thing and accused his daughter’s husband of deliberately misquoting him. That should make for some interesting family Thanksgivings.

Still, the “silly” beat goes on. A recent article by a Greensboro, N.C., sports writer suggested that Indians should just man up. He compared “redskin” to “redneck,” and who, he seemed to be saying, could possibly be offended by that term? Anybody called “redneck” in anger is my guess.

The hard-headed owner of the Washington professional football team, Daniel Snyder, might wish to consider keeping his logo and changing the team’s name. The name Warriors has been suggested and sounds fine. Or Snyder might want to start from scratch, coin a new name and trade his dignified Indian logo to Cleveland for a mascot to be named later.

Jack Shakely is the former chairman of the Los Angeles City/County Native American Indian Commission and president emeritus of the California Community Foundation.Follow the Opinion section on Twitter @latimesopinion