In the past year, Washington’s NFL franchise has faced heavier and more organized opposition than ever before to its “Redskins” nickname, a story reporter Travis Waldron tells today at ThinkProgress. And one new piece of information revealed in Waldron’s piece is that team spokesperson Tony Wyllie asked former Bush administration figure Ari Fleischer and Virginia politician George Allen for advice on managing the nickname controversy.
Fleischer was a key part of the campaign to convince the public that Iraq was stockpiling weapons of mass destruction and, more recently, worked to oppose the creation of a playoff system in college football. Asking someone with Fleischer’s resumé for help building credibility with any audience, let alone football fans, is an odd choice.
But, somehow, George Allen is even less qualified as a public relations advisor in this situation. Allen, the son of Washington’s former head coach, lost his 2006 Senate re-election campaign at least in part because he was caught on videotape calling an Indian-American man volunteering for his opponent “Macaca.” Said Allen to the volunteer: “Welcome to America and the real world of Virginia.” (The man had been born and raised in Virginia.) “Macaca” is an antiquated racial slur; Allen claimed he had made it up as a nonsense word — but either way, it seemed that his intention had been to mock a darker-skinned person as an outsider. Salon subsequently reported that three of Allen’s college football teammates from the University Of Virginia remembered him as “a racist” who frequently used the word “nigger.” (He’s denied using the word.)
Allen’s reponse to Wyllie suggested that the team emphasize its historical connection to William Dietz, its second coach. Dietz claimed Sioux ancestry, and the Washington franchise says the “Redskins” name was adopted to honor him.
Dietz’s birth certificate says he was born to white German parents, and in 1920 he served 30 days in jail for having falsely claimed Native ancestry in the process of trying to evade the military draft.