MSNBC host Lawrence O’Donnell offered an uninformed characterization of the origin of the Washington Redskins mascot Monday on The Last Word.
The MSNBC host alleged the name was “invented by white guys” in 1933:
LAWRENCE O’DONNELL: The name of the Washington football team was invented by white guys in 1933 when the team was then located in Boston. We don’t have notes from the naming session so we don’t know what else the team owner vetoed. Boston white skins? I doubt that made the list even though the team was very, very white. So what were the chances that the white guys in Boston in 1933 would come up with a racist term when thinking of people of different races? The chances were 100 percent.
However, according to Senior Linguist of the Smithsonian Institute Ives Goddard, the term “redskin” predates the 20th century and extends back to the colonial period. Moreover, according to Goddard, both members of the Native American community and whites used the term:
It was from the use of red as a conventional iconic reference to North American Indians, both by Native Americans and by representatives of the Colonial European powers, that the word redskin emerged. This development took place among a small group of people in a limited area, part of what was historically called the Illinois Country.
O’Donnell also claimed “we don’t have notes on the meeting,” but because the owners were white guys from Boston in the 1930s the odds of adopting a racist team name were high.
In actuality, then owner of the Boston Braves George Marshall chose the name to honor the coach William ‘Lone Star’ Dietz, himself purportedly of Native American descent.
The debate as to whether the “Redskins” is an offensive term may be legitimate, but O’Donnell’s attribution of the mascot’s origins to Boston “white guys in 1933″ is wholly inaccurate.