TIMOTHY NOAH OCTOBER 4, 2011
I can't defend Rick Perry's (or his father's) apparent slowness to paint over the word "Niggerhead" on a rock by the entrance of a West Texas hunting camp that his family leased. It's deplorable, and it doesn't speak well for his racial sensitivity. But I do feel a slight twinge of sympathy for the Texas governor when I imagine him thinking, "I have to take this from a bunch of people who root for a football team called the Redskins?"
One of the enduring mysteries of our age is why the supposedly enlightened inhabitants of our nation's capital tolerate a name for their football team that, while perhaps not as offensive as the N word, is certainly comparable to "darkie." In recent years I suppose the issue has commanded less attention because the team itself has, through poor performance on the gridiron, commanded less attention. But nobody is asking how much game Perry managed to bag in the years when his hunting camp carried its unfortunate name. It's not really relevant.
Some Native American activists sued the Redskins in the 1990s on the grounds that trademarks cannot be maintained if they're racially defamatory. They won an initial judgment in 1999, but it was overturned in 2003. Since then the courts have rebuffed other challenges to the name. A couple of polls have been conducted by Sports Illustrated and the Pew Center that purportedly show that Native Americans don't actually mind what Washington calls its football team. I don't actually believe this. Try greeting the next Native American you see by saying, "Hail, Redskin!" You're liable to get punched in the nose.