The Washington Redskins would appreciate it if you reflect upon the noble, under-acknowledged history of the Navajo Code Talkers. These courageous, talented men developed and memorized a code based on their native language that America's enemies in World War II were unable to break. In the face of immeasurable stakes, their efforts saved perhaps thousands of American lives.
The Redskins invited four Code Talkers onto FedEx Field at tonight's Monday Night Football game against the San Francisco 49ers. It was a well-deserved honor for the aging Marines.
The gimongous video board at the stadium flashed the web address for the Navajo Code Talkers Association, navajocodetalkers.org. There, you can learn more about how the men created and practiced the ingenious code. It was critical to the American effort. In the first 48 hours in the battle for Iwo Jima, they exchanged some 800 messages. Such efforts have earned the Navajos'—and dozens of other less-publicized tribes'—code talkers recognition up to and including Congressional gold medals, the highest civilian honor, for their actions.
The NFL has been honoring veterans' service this month. The Redskins' decision to feature the Navajo Code Talkers was seen by some as a public relations move at a moment when many people are calling for the Redskins to change their name. Because it's frickin' 2013, and they're still calling themselves the Redskins, which is a name that, were it to be proposed for an expansion team, would earn the person who suggested it an instant shitcanning.
People make these speculations — wild, unhinged, cynical — without knowing all the facts, or appreciating the real good here: That we're having a conversation about some pretty amazing people because of the Redskins' decision to put them on the field. But forgive people for suggesting that a team whose owners insist on using the name "Redskins" might not have the greatest grasp of decorum, and in fact might not be above positioning American heroes as human shields. Of course we'll never know the true motive. But — if I may join the wild speculators — if the intention is indeed to honor veterans without dredging up the specter of racial politics, it sure wouldn't hurt to change that awful team name already.