A few months ago a guy reached out to me over Twitter with a common question, but for an unusual purpose. He asked if gamers can create or rename teams in Madden NFL. No, I replied, that hasn't been a feature for several years. His reason for asking is probably why: the guy wanted to create the Washington Whiteskins.
Brittain Peck established the satirical "Whiteskins" a few years ago as a protest against the Washington Redskins' nickname in particular, and sports' cultural appropriation of Native American names and symbology in general. Peck runs Whiteskins.org, and sells t-shirts for the fake team, giving the proceeds to Native American advocacy organizations. He figured some kind of a share-able video game mod could pump up interest in what he's doing.
I told Peck that Madden doesn't let you modify NFL teams (though, in this year's game, if you move a franchise in the career mode you may change its name and uniforms to one of three options the game gives you.) That said, NCAA Football's TeamBuilder, despite having very little added to it since it was introduced four years ago, remains deep enough to handle the job.
I took it on as a thought exercise, and also because my feelings—on the Redskins name especially—align with Peck's. He sent me some style sheets and I whipped up a solid set of home and road threads (with alternate pants), taking a sardonic pride in getting the app to recognize the Crayola Flesh color as a home jersey. (Ordinarily it won't let you select "light" colors as a home shirt, but I glitched it and got it to work.)
You can see the team here, on PlayStation 3, and here for Xbox 360. You can download it to your console by going into TeamBuilder and searching for the nickname "Whiteskins." It's the only created team on NCAA 14 by that name.
I took a while to post this because I was apprehensive about being publicly identified with the project. I mean, this is offensive. It's basically a racist caricature. Then I realized that's the point. Anyone who has a problem with "Whiteskins" should have a problem with Redskins—and vice versa. If you find this crass, juvenile or hostile or a stubborn, arrogant way of arguing a complicated issue with a decades-long presence in American life, well, guess what: "Redskins" stands for the same thing.
And no, I would not create the Blackskins, if asked, because while it sounds cool to throw that out as some kind of argumentative sidebar, insulting a second ethnic minority to call attention to the grievances of the first is generally not an effective means of raising awareness. This satire also draws on the prerogative one has to make jokes about his own ethnic background. And yes, thank you, I know Notre Dame's teams are called the Fighting Irish. It is hardly cultural appropriation when Irish Catholicism forms a huge portion of that university's culture. The only tolerable edge case, if you really want to split hairs, would be a school like The University of North Carolina at Pembroke, whose original enrollment was limited to American Indians, and whose athletic teams are known as the Braves.
Will people use "Whiteskins" in their NCAA Football Dynasties? Will they download and share the teams? Will they play unranked games with the good old flesh-and-red online? I don't know. Another reason I'm hosting it under my name is I want to be notified immediately if someone reports it to EA Sports and it gets moderated out of TeamBuilder, where at last count some 150 "Redskins" teams can be found in the library for both consoles. I'd find that outcome richly ironic.
As I have said, whether a white person can find/pay a Native American to say this kind of thing isn't offensive to them isn't really the point. Whether or not this name was was culturally acceptable when it was introduced 80 years ago is beside the point, too. The Washington Redskins choose to identify their product, players and fans with a racist insult. In 2013.
Maybe there can be some reasonable debate over not-overtly racist nicknames, like Braves, Chiefs or Indians, especially when there are major teams out there known as Canucks, Trojans and Spartans, among other tribal/regional identifiers. But as a mainstream entertainment product, Redskins is about as mature, dignified and reasonable as Whiteskins. Which is to say it isn't at all.