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As If

How 'Bout Rooting for Those Potato Heads?

January 15, 2002|PETER Y. HONG | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The name of Washington's pro football team is a badge of honor for some, a slur to others, and never the twain shall meet.

Most recently, a Manhattan Beach man who played for the Redskins in the 1950s was told by the California Department of Motor Vehicles to turn in his "1REDSKN" license plate, which was deemed offensive after a Native American activist complained.

Here's how to resolve this once and for all: Let the team keep the name, but change its mascot. Replace the American Indian face with a red-skinned potato.

At long last, a win-win solution for an 8-8 football team and mascot protesters who've yet to score against a pro sports franchise!

No people would be objectified in the making of the logos; the Washington Redskins would still be the Washington Redskins; newspapers that refuse to print the team name could lift their bans; and the DMV could rethink its license-plate policy.

The team seems to find the suggestion offensive. "We're proud of our team logo. It stands for tradition and excellence, and we don't joke around about it," said Michelle Tessier, spokeswoman for the Washington Redskins. Tessier said little more, but her tone suggested the team might change its mascot around the time Congress outlaws campaign contributions from lobbyists.

But others are intrigued. "We'd be all for it," said Wendy Jenkins of the Denver-based National Potato Promotion Board. With the potato on its uniforms, "the team might get more support from the rest of the nation," Jenkins said.

Indeed, who would protest potatoes? Green Bay Packers fans have been "cheese heads" for years without so much as a whimper from the lactose intolerant. Why not the "potato heads"?

Besides, pro football is already associated with potatoes, much like baseball is with the hot dog. It is, after all, couch potatoes who settle in front of their TVs for the big game, bag of chips in hand.

Sure, there could be a downside for the team. Imagine the headlines after losses proclaiming the Redskins "whipped," "mashed" or "creamed."

American Indian comic Charlie Hill thinks the 'Skins should at least consider the spud. The potato, he points out, is a food that has nourished the world, something worthy of celebration and honor.

But he doubts the team will listen.

"Sports teams with big money always want to tell us what's offensive, instead of us telling them," said Hill, who has protested Indian mascots for years.

Hill thinks maybe the Redskins, like a lot of folks today, are too sensitive. In the early 1970s, he and some Native American buddies at the University of Wisconsin called their intramural basketball and volleyball teams the Fighting Norwegians.

Nobody was offended, he said. Those were the good old days.

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