The current controversy over the NFL Washington Redskins’ name draws an inevitable comparison to the identical issue with the former restaurant chain Sambo’s.
The unfortunate choice of name by Sambo’s owners, Sam Battistone, Sr. and Newell Bohnett, to name their restaurant based upon a melding of their names, led to a racial controversy in the late ’70s.
African-Americans were offended by the name Sambo’s because of the perceived reference to the book Little Black Sambo, which told the story of a young Indian who was robbed by tigers and gave up his possessions to save his life. Over time the term Sambo became a racial slur often used against African-Americans. Many versions of the book, particularly in Japan, depicted Sambo as a person of African descent.
The owners of Sambo’s took advantage of the association and decorated their restaurants with illustrations from the books, usually ones of a dark-skinned boy of indeterminate heritage. Since Sambo had become a racially pejorative term, the restaurant was forced to change its name due to local community pressure, as well communities not granting the chain permits for expansion. Due to management and other business issues, the chain was eventually sold.
Perhaps the owners of the Washington Redskins should take heed. In retrospect, the Sambo’s situation could be construed as a misunderstanding because the owners simply chose a name of which they did not understand its connotation. To be fair, the connotation of the name became worse over time. However, Sambo’s realized the damage to their brand was spreading and made the right decision.
To many in the Native American community and beyond, the term Redskin is offensive. Just as the term “Indians” was dropped by my alma mater Stanford in 1972 for the same reason, it was considered racially offensive by Native American students.
Since the owners of the Washington team refuse to bow to public pressure concerning the pejorative term, it is now time to turn to the fans. Not the fans of the Washington team, but the fans of all other NFL teams. Let’s call on the media to simply refer to the team as Washington in all broadcasts. Let’s make sure each scoreboard at all the Washington away games has no mention of the term Redskins. Fantasy football players, don’t pick anyone from Washington (clearly easy this year).
We would never have a team called the Sambos. Or Beaners. Or Kikes. Or Dagos. Or Honkies. For good reason, it is offensive to the underlying population that the horrible terms have been used to demean.
What is particularly offensive is the fact that the ownership of the Washington team is tone-deaf. It seems to be an affliction that consumes the city of Washington, D.C. among all circles. This is proven by the fact that polled Washington fans want to keep the name. Guess what, they don’t get to decide whether a term that refers to a person is offensive. The person does.
Unfortunately, those in Washington only understand one thing; money. So if you want a name change, you need to hit the Washington team where it hurts, in their pocket.
The current Washington name is an embarrassment to the city of D.C and beyond, as well at the NFL. Can you imagine the NFL or owners would keep the name if 25 percent of the players in the NFL were Native American? Talk about tyranny of the majority.