Joe Gibbs' Comments On Washington Name Debate Show That He Just Doesn't Get It

By Kevin Saito
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Over the course of a long and storied career, Joe Gibbs is a name that came to be synonymous with winning. He guided the Washington Redskins to three Super Bowl titles, not to mention having some tremendous success with his NASCAR team. He’s a figure well respected inside and outside NFL circles, is a leader, motivational speaker, and has inspired countless thousands of people.

So it seems especially appalling that Gibbs felt the need to open his mouth and prove that he’s every bit as ignorant as team owner Dan Snyder when it comes to the team’s name.

In the wake of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office canceling six different trademark registrations previously owned by Washington’s football team, owner Dan Snyder has pulled out all of the stops in an effort to win a PR war, and to limit the damage in the court of public opinion. To that end, he’s hired a noted political blogger to help him defend the indefensible, and now seems to be rolling out Gibbs, the football legend and icon, to do his dirty work for him.

In Kentucky for NASCAR’s Quaker State 400 event, Gibbs took a moment to sound off on the controversy surrounding Snyder and Washington’s football team.

“I grew up in North Carolina. The only team we could get on TV in the late ’40s was the Redskins. I pulled for them my whole life. For the whole time I was there … never once did I hear anybody ever say anything negative about the name ‘Redskins.'”

Clearly like Snyder, Gibbs has not been listening very hard, or is suffering from a very pronounced case of selective amnesia, as the team’s nickname is something Native American groups have been fighting back against since at least the early ’70s – making this issue one that dates back for at least more than 40 years.

Gibbs went on to say that the name ‘redskins’ evokes courage and was “always prideful,” before going on to deliver this nugget of absolute ignorance.

“We have a song: ‘Hail to the Redskins.” So everything – everything – about that name has been positive for me and my past.”

Where to start dissecting that steaming pile of idiocy boggles the mind.

First of all, just because something “has a song,” does not immediately impart a positive connotation upon it. The old minstrel shows of the late-19th/early-20th centuries used to have lots and lots of songs, but you would be hard-pressed to make the case that those carried positive connotations. Well, hard-pressed unless you subscribe to a certain set of intolerant racial beliefs, anyway.

Secondly, simply because “everything – everything – about that name has been positive” for Gibbs and his past, does not mean it’s been positive for everybody. This nation has a long, bloody and entirely shameful history when it comes to its dealings with Native American peoples, so it is the absolute height of not just ignorance, but absolute arrogance to claim that just because it’s been positive for you, it’s been positive for everybody.

This is especially true when there are countless thousands of Native American people saying that it’s anything but positive, and that it’s anything but prideful; instead, they’re saying it’s downright hurtful, slanderous and racist.

Snyder and Washington GM Bruce Allen are on the very wrong side of this issue. The fact that, as non-Native American people, they are seeking to tell Native American people what to think and how to feel about the continued use of a racist word, is arrogant beyond belief as well as beyond disgusting. It goes to show that they will defend their white privilege to the death.

Gibbs was an icon. Whether pushed into the spotlight by Snyder’s neverending PR campaign or not, that he is forever tarnishing his image by aligning himself with Snyder and Allen, defending their white privilege and presuming to dictate to Native Americans what is and isn’t a racial slur, is incredibly disappointing and horribly sad.

 Kevin Saito is a fiction writer, sports junkie, history nerd, and NFL contributor to He’s just a “clown with an opinion,” and you can follow him on Twitter, Facebook, or on Google

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