PEMBROKE — The ongoing controversy over the name of the NFL’s Washington Redskins doesn’t provoke much anger in Robeson County, despite its population that is about 40 percent Lumbee Indian.
Instead of outrage, many interviewed for this story expressed their support for the team, calling themselves fans.
For decades, it has been argued by certain American Indian groups, civil rights organizations and even lawmakers that the name Redskins should be changed. Some Indian groups say the term is racist, a derogatory epithet that perpetuates stereotypes that demean American Indians.
Others, however, see the use of American Indian terms as a way of honoring the achievements and virtues of American Indians.The name Redskins, they say, is not being used in a negative manner.
The owners of the NFL franchise, now Dan Synder, have stood firm against a name change. Snyder has said he would never change the name, and Roger Goodell, the commissioner of the NFL, says the league office would not force a change.
The controversy made national headlines earlier this year after a symposium on Indian team names was held at the Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C. Since the February event, several members of the U.S. Congress have publicly urged that Redskins no longer be used.
Robeson County Commissioner Raymond Cummings, an avid Redskins fan, said that he isn’t offended by the team’s name.
“The term Redskin doesn’t bother me as long as it’s used in good taste,” he said.
County Manager Ricky Harris, like Cummings an American Indian, feels the same way.
“I have no problem with it,” Harris said. “I can’t say anything against the Redskins anyway. My father was a big fan.”
A national poll by the Associated Press found that about 80 percent of Americans don’t have a problem with the name, but Stan Knick, director of The University of North Carolina at Pembroke’s Native American Resource Center and a teacher in the university’s American Indian Studies Department, said the minority should not be ignored.
“If we are going to have a team Redskins why not have one called the Whiteys or the Darkies?” he said. “That’s troubling to me. It’s all stereotyping.”
Knick said that several years ago, when local residents were surveyed to see if they objected to UNCP’s nickname, Braves, the majority did not want to see it changed. He said that the university was recognized as a traditionally American Indian school and the name was an important part of the community’s heritage and culture.
“The overwhelming opinion was to keep the name,” Knick said. “It’s part of the history of the community.”
But Knick insists that the voice of those who desire a change of name for the Redskins should at least have their concerns considered.
“Even if there are only two or three in a group of 10 opposing an issue, the minority should be listened to,” he said. “Just because a majority rules does not mean that the minority should not be heard.”
In 2012, there was controversy of the name of the school’s mascot, a red-tailed hawk that was called Tommy, making him known as Tommy Hawk.
Jimmy Goins, a former chairman of the Lumbee Tribe, said that he is “proud” that UNCP kept the nickname Braves because of the university’s historic and cultural significance to American Indians, bu he does not support the use of Redskins by the Washington team.
“It really doesn’t bother me, but if I had the chance to vote I would vote in favor of the name being changed. It can be offensive to some,” he said. “Still, I’ve been a big fan of the Redskins for a long time.”
Sherlina Godwin, who is a candidate for the Lumbee Tribal Council election that is scheduled for Nov. 12, is one who feels the name Redskins is derogatory and degrading.
“The name should definitely be changed,” she said.
Brieana McCorkle, a student at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke, didn’t think the name is a big deal.
“I’ve never seen it as offensive,” she said. “If anything, it gives us a reason to watch football. You have the Kansas City Chiefs, Cleveland Indians, Atlanta Braves. It gives us more recognition.”
Dalton Townsend, also a UNCP student, felt the same way.
“To some it may be [offensive],” he said. “It depends on the person. Respect has different meanings to everybody. Personally, it doesn’t bother me.”
What some Redskins fans might find offensive, however, is the play of the team this year. The team is 0-2 going into Sunday’s home game against Detroit.
Staff writer Kelly Mayo contributed to this report.