Hail, Triumphant Redskins!

CARL T. ROWAN

October 18, 1991|By CARL T. ROWAN

WASHINGTON — Washington. -- I was trying to withdraw from the slime and anger over Clarence Thomas and the U.S. Supreme Court and get back to the soothing world of sports. But I found that racial and cultural conflicts were there, too.

I sought days of serenity in which I could cheer on the Atlanta Braves, push my all-conquering Washington Redskins and agonize over whether the Florida State Seminoles should whip the Miami Hurricanes. I found myself in the eye of another rising storm.

I got called by someone who resented baseball fans in Atlanta wearing headfeathers, and even President and Mrs. Carter and Braves owner Ted Turner using the ''tomahawk chop'' to inspire the Braves to defeat the Pittsburgh Pirates. I was told that if the Braves made it to a World Series game in Minnesota, where I have known personally a lot of Chippewa and Sioux Indians, there would be demonstrations against the Atlanta ''insults'' against Native Americans.

''Just as the nation's sensitivity has been raised about sexual har- assment,'' the caller said, ''we're going to raise sensibilities about the abuse of the heritage of the First Americans.''

The point hit me quicker than an Alan Simpson insult: the Atlanta Braves stood on the brink of baseball glory; the Florida State Seminoles were rated the best team in college football; the Washington Redskins were at the pinnacle of the National Football League.

''You're kidding,'' I said to my caller. ''I have written reams about the injustices heaped upon all Native Americans. But when it comes to sports nicknames, American Indians haven't had it so good since they kicked Custer's butt.''

I told the caller that I had just gone through the travesty of the Senate hearings on Clarence Thomas -- so please don't drag me into a useless donnybrook about the monikers of sports teams.

Conversation over, I thought about how the term ''Fighting Irish'' once conjured up an image of poor immigrants in New England who got drunk and brawled, the stereotype being that fighting was their second favorite recreation.

I doubt that you now can find one American of Irish descent who resents the Notre Dame football team calling itself ''the Fighting Irish.'' Notre Dame's latest heroes may be black, or Polish, or have Islamic names, but they still make legions of Irish people proud.

This country has so many serious social problems that go unaddressed that it pains me to see people wasting their outrage on the nicknames of sports teams -- usually the winning ones, at that. Count on someone to accuse Abe Pollin of being a front for the National Rifle Association gun lobby if he ever gets his Washington Bullets back into a championship game!

If it really offends someone that black Art Monk and reddish Mark Rypien are called ''Redskins,'' what should Jack Kent Cooke call our team? Should he honor the slurs on this great city by renaming them ''the Washington Muggers,'' or ''the Washington Dopes''?

How do children play cowboys and Indians if Dallas can have Cowboys and Denver can have Broncos, but nobody can have any Native Americans? Shall Miami fans rely on the Animal Rights League to help ''save the Dolphins''?

Zealotry about sports nicknames has driven me back to writing and talking about the daily political, racial and sexual struggles. There's no hidin' place down here.

8, Carl T. Rowan is a syndicated columnist.

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