As a bit of a disclaimer, I am a fan of history. My undergraduate degree is in history. I read books on history. My family is forced to look at historical locations and artifacts while on vacation. So I feel like when it comes to history, I am a bit of a fan.
Recently there has been a great deal of debate and conversation regarding history – particularly American history – and how we should honor and respect our history. I’m speaking, in this instance, of American Civil War history and of particular historical artifacts that speak to Confederate history – artifacts such as the Confederate flag, the Confederate battle flag, and other names or phrases associated with the Confederacy. There has been a great deal of conversation about how the use of the flags and other artifacts is a means to respect our history.
I will give my thoughts to more on that topic in a moment.
A second area that this historical conversation has impacted is the world of sports – and in particular the mascots of teams. The Washington Redskins are at the center of this controversy. Some defend the brand by pondering why the name has all-of-a-sudden become insensitive. As though a lack of previous opposition, in this instance by a historically oppressed people group, provides a legitimate excuse to use the name, Redskin. This argument is the very definition of specious.
Others defend the Redskin brand by appealing to history. Dan Snyder, owner of the Washington Redskins offered this excuse in an interview with ESPN, “What I would encourage you to do and everyone else to do is just look at the history, understand where the name came from, understand what it means.”
Dan argues that he is honoring and understanding history by continuing to use the name Redskin as his team’s mascot.
By naming mascots after dark pages of our nation’s history or by proudly displaying the Confederate flags, we are not honoring, remembering, or understanding history.
We are celebrating it.
Every time the crowd cheers when the Redskins score a touchdown, intercept a pass, recover a fumble, or kick a field goal, we are celebrating our ugly history.
We must remember these awful moments of our history. As the famous phrase goes, “Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it”. We must learn about, contemplate, understand, and study our nation’s history – all of its history – including the brutal treatment of Native Americans, the atrocities of the Antebellum South, and the Civil War.
But we must not celebrate it.
Imagine if teams in South Africa are named the “Apartheids” or the Waffen SS in Germany. Every country has dark pages in the past. Not every nation celebrates their dark days by naming teams after it or displays its ugly wares. We Americans are unique in this aspect.
Taking down the Confederate flags, no longer using Confederate phrases or naming teams after it, removing Redskin from our vernacular – sports or otherwise – demonstrates that we respect our history.
Keeping mascots and flying flags shows that we haven’t learned a thing.
We must continue to learn from our history.
We must stop celebrating it.