During my freshman year at college, there was an older guy at my fraternity everyone used to call “Heeb-heimer.” That was a play on his real name, which was Hartheimer. He was Jewish.
I used to call him that too. Actually, I called him “Hee-Heimer.” I had never heard of someone being called a “Heeb” before, and since he was very funny, I assumed that’s what everyone else was saying. “Hey, there is Hee-Heimer,” I would say whenever I ran into him. Expecting him to make one of his jokes whenever I said that, I had this idea that I was complimenting him on his sense of humor.
You could say I was pretty naïve.
General Manager George Allen announced recently that D.C.’s professional football team is sticking with its name, even though there are many people who are offended by the term. Says Amanda Blackhorse, lead petitioner on a lawsuit against the continued use of the name: “Native peoples don’t have a sense of belonging in this country. Names like this, making us exist as mascots and symbols, make it worse.”
So what’s the point of keeping the team name if people find it offensive? The actual name has very little to do with the tradition of football in the District. Do it now and in a couple of years, very few people will even remember that we once went by a different name. (And to those people who still complain about the change of the D.C. basketball team from the Bullets to the Wizards: It’s time to move on.)
Just as I was embarrassed when I found out what I had been party to when it came to the guy in my fraternity, the rest of us don’t need to have any part of this, even if team officials seem to be digging in their heels. I think we should start referring to the team informally as either the Washington Heebs or the Washington Micks, just to see how Daniel Snyder and George Allen, respectively, feel about that. (Brian Gurwitz has claimed he would feel honored if the team were named after him as the “Bald Jews.”)
Finally, as Sally Jenkins of the Washington Post has pointed out, if Snyder and Allen truly believe that use of the name is intended to honor Native Americans, they should go to a meeting of the National Congress of American Indians and try addressing people face-to-face by that term. That might have the advantage of solving some of the team’s management issues at the same time.