When the Washington Redskins' VP of communications emailed a group of advisors seeking advice in how to respond to questions about the team's racist name, the first person to respond with advice was George Allen, who in 2006 narrowly lost a Senate election in Virginia after making a racially charged comment. Allen defended the team's name, naturally.
Details of the interaction are outlined in ThinkProgress' exhaustive look at why the fight over the team's name became so much more visible in 2013. (The short answer, which shouldn't prevent you from reading the piece, is that there was an effort, launched about a year ago by Native American groups, that aimed at eliminating racist team names.) The site's Travis Waldron emailed the team asking for comment on a variety of issues, which then made its way around a small group of external advisors: GOP strategist Frank Luntz, former Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer, and George and Bruce Allen, the two sons of the team's former coach. Then, somehow, the email chain ended up back in Waldron's hands.
The team has long defended its name by pointing to Lone Star Dietz, who once coached the team and who may or may not have been Native American and who may or may not have been the inspiration for changing the team's name. Allen erred on the side of both "mays."
George Allen’s response is the first included in the chain, and it suggests that the team reiterate its story about changing its name to honor Lone Star Dietz, even though the team can’t prove its claims.
“The point was that the Redskins owner at the time obviously believed that Lone Star Dietz was a Native American and named the team to honor Native Americans and be motivated by their heritage,” Allen ... wrote. “All the other aspects of the story about Lone Star’s adoption and other intrigue and speculation is undoubtedly beyond our ability to discern as to its veracity.”
That's the point: That the owner at the time thought it was a tribute. That is no longer considered a tribute and that that might not be true anyway and that the guy might not be a Native American at all is "beyond our ability to discern as to its veracity." So the name stays.
In 2006, Allen seemed like a lock for reelection in Virginia. Until, that is, he was caught on videotape calling a staffer for his opponent "macaca." The staffer was Indian; "macaca" is a derogatory term for people of color.
Allen already had a sketchy track record on racial issues. He voted against an MLK Day resolution in 1984. In high school, he was apparently involved in painting racist graffiti at his school. In 2011, Allen, who'd been thinking about reentering the political world, was criticized for repeatedly asking a black reporter if he played sports. (The reporter didn't.)
For what it's worth, Fleischer and Bruce Allen agreed with George, that Waldron should be ignored or told forcefully that the name stayed. They were all apparently being paid by the team to figure out how to fend off criticism, so it's a natural position to take. But the entire point of the fight over the name is that language like "Redskins" is now broadly considered unacceptable. Times change. You don't call people macaca; you don't call them redskins. If your goal is to understand and navigate that distinction, George Allen is not the best choice as an advisor.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.