A Flag on the Play

Washington Redskins

Washington Redskins
NFL Up Close

Since this is a bit more serious than just a discussion on a book, I am filing it under the Practical Librarian tab. This post is a bit longer than usual and illustrates one of the bigger philosophical aspects of collection development. I am only raising questions, and as usual, I am not telling anyone to weed or not weed a particular title. This is only my opinion and reflects some of the discussions I have had with my colleagues.

I was filing some books and this one jumped out at me. It is your basic football book outlining some key players and brief (very brief), sanitized, history of the franchise. Most public library collections probably have a similar set, with extra books on the hometown favorite. My library has a book on all the NFL franchises, but as we are in Metro Detroit, our sports choices will naturally favor Detroit area sports teams.

If you haven’t heard, the football team formerly known as the Redskins (cringe), put in a temporary placeholder name of the The Washington Football Team after years of pressure about the name. This is not a new controversy. The Washington franchise has been problematic for decades. This franchise fought tooth and nail against any attempts to integrate the team or address the problematic slur as the team name. (Washington was the last team in the NFL and only did so with some threats from the federal government.) This recent name change was also resisted until some big retailers said they wouldn’t carry Washington branded materials.

Overt racism is very much a part of the franchise history. In addition, the National Football League (NFL) has been in trouble over the years for a variety of issues: concussions, domestic violence, and sexual harassment, to name a few. The short answer is that the NFL and Washington, in particular, have a not so nice history.

Most of these franchise sports books aimed at children do seem to have a team history or “key moments.” It seems that some of the key moments in the history of Washington’s franchise are missing. There is no mention of the team name as a slur or their resistance to integration. Should the history of the team be so sanitized that it is misleading? How real does it need to be for the average 8 or 9 year-old reader?

I have also been thinking about the issues of racism in books that are ostensibly not about race (like football), but absolutely have a lot to do with racism. Can you have a book about the Washington football team and NOT mention these problems? How much should be discussed with children? How do we avoid “white washing” these issues, not just in football, but with the entire collection?

People are weird about sports traditions. I say that about my own high school which was called the Raiders and had an Indian head as a mascot much like the Cleveland Indians. Our high school was in a sports conference with Pekin, Illinois, where the mascot was a “chink.” I think it took an embarrassingly long time to change and there was some real resistance to changing the name.

I hope everyone thinks about these questions as we do our best to curate materials that not only follow our missions, but are truly inclusive and respectful. For the record, I would weed this book right now as the team name is different. If I am in the right mood, I would probably tell the publishers that I am now looking for a bit more unvarnished truth in all areas of the collection.


history of washington football


  1. Children today are pretty savvy about these things and might wonder what was left out. And that’s just the white children. BIPOC boys and girls are definitely going to have heard a less-sanitized story. And considering the fact that most pro athletes in the US are Black, I’d guess that’s even more important that sports books deal with these issues.

    I’d hope publishers would trust that children can handle these issues and give a fuller picture in the next edition of this series.

    And considering this isn’t even the team’s name now, this one’s easy to weed. Hopefully they’ll have settled on a new name in time for the next edition.

    On a lighter note — is #8 quarterback there wearing a fanny pack?

    1. “I’d hope publishers would trust that children can handle these issues […]”

      I agree. You can teach children about the World Wars and their brutality without going into the detail that older students can handle better. We can have books that make it plain that “even” things unrelated to politics and policing were infested with racial hatred and were openly excluding non-white people but don’t reprint the verbatim report of a lynching (for example).

      1. Also, for gruesome, you can’t beat Theismann’s broken leg! It’s the first thing I thought of when I saw his name in the last photo.

  2. The ten year old copy I had didn’t mention any debates as well and has joined the weeded books. Thank you for a thoughtful discussion about this topic.

  3. I grew up not far from Pekin when that controversy was playing out. I had no idea; never heard of it. Thank you for sharing this and educating us on this cringe-inducing history of Pekin.

  4. It’s a handwarmer, that’s their cold weather uniform. Rather than wear gloves and risk poor grip or control, they go barehanded and keep their hands in what amounts to a muff between plays.

    1. I thought maybe he was carrying his own private Gatorade. 🙂 But I see his long sleeves now.

      Suitable for — say it with me, NFL Films fans — “The Frozen Tundra of Lambeau Field”.

  5. I think it was Oscar Wilde who said that the truth was neither pure nor simple. The same can be said about the history of any pro sports team.

    2017 wasn’t very long ago but there has been a lot of controversy about this team for decades and kids know when they’re not being told parts of the story they should be told.

    Weed this one from a youth collection with no regrets. Still, it might be useful in a collection devoted to sport history.

  6. People should actually spend time around Indians. Who refer to themselves as ‘skins.

    And those Indian tribes who are protesting are doing so because they are being paid by liberal groups, not because they are offended.

    My full-blood Creek great-grandmother didn’t mind. I’m not so sure why other people feel a reason to be offended by something the so-called offended aren’t offended by.

    1. [citation needed) as they say.

      And certainly the fact that they were the last team to hire Black players is indisputable — particularly in a sport where 70% of current NFL players couldn’t have played for them. It’s something kids should know.

      (Nor can anyone deny the problems with concussions and CTE.)

    2. Persons and groups who throw away or discount others are displaying a type of barbarism, or offense against civilization; whether or not anyone within earshot takes offense, of the offense is committed. I do not, as an example, have to have any skin color put a foot down if someone tosses off “n****r”, and no one else needs any.

  7. One factor: today’s NFL team in DC can’t score against a strong odor, and can’t stop a run up the middle, or cut off a pass route up the middle either.

    They have gone from a team with a national following right up there with Dallas and Green Bay(Both of those names are just as insensitive to gays as Redskins is to those descended from the Precolumbian peoples.) to a team that is getting beaten like a rented mule in local ratings by the Baltimore Ravens !

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