By Tim Graham
If you happen to see former Buffalo Sabres head coach Ted Nolan out and about, don't extend your hand and greet him with the word Washington's NFL team insists is a term of honor.
You might end up with your shirt yanked over your head, hockey-fight style.
"I'd be very offended," Nolan said today by phone from his home in Garden River First Nation near Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.
"There are certain things you can't call black people or Chinese people or Jewish people. We as Native Americans, or First Nation people as we're called in Canada, we find it offensive, too."
In a column last week, I committed to never again writing or saying the R-word that Washington uses as its nickname. I believe it's a slur, and Merriam-Webster agrees with me by definition. Empathy agrees with me, too.
Well over 90 percent of readers and Twitter followers also supported my column, but an entrenched minority continually reminded me why this remains an issue.
The objectors, mostly white men, many whom claimed to have amused "Indian friends," presented two main arguments:
1) The R-word is not offensive.
2) Native Americans don't care anyway.
I was interested in what Nolan had to say because he's one of the most prominent Native American sportsmen in recent decades and easily the most notable around Western New York.
Nolan was named NHL coach of the year with the Sabres in 1997 and also guided the New York Islanders to the playoffs. He's now coach of the Latvian national team that will play in the 2014 Winter Olympics. His son, Jordan Nolan, won the Stanley Cup with the Los Angeles Kings last year.
"I remember at a young age being in front of our Ojibwa cultural teacher, one of the guys called one of the girls we were with a squaw, and he went ballistic," Nolan said. "He told us our women are sacred, and that the white people made that word. It was very offensive.
"You grow up and hear other words growing up, and redskin is one of them. I personally don't like the name."
While coaching the Moncton Wildcats in 2005, Nolan received an official apology from Quebec Major Junior Hockey League commissioner Gilles Courteau after fans of the host Chicoutimi Sagueneens yelled racial slurs and mocked Nolan with chants during a game.
Nolan said the Shawinigan Cataractes discontinued a tradition of running an Indian effigy on a wire around the arena after goals. The Cataractes asked Nolan if that offended him. He said that it did, and the team stopped its practice.
"Sure, the Redskins name has been around for generations," Nolan said, "but when you're a person of that race and someone calls you a redskin, they don't know why they're saying it, where the word comes from or what the word means."
But Nolan doesn't want Washington owner Dan Snyder to drop the word immediately. Nolan wants more than that.
He'd like proceeds from the sale of Washington team merchandise to alleviate what Nolan called "third-world living conditions" on North American reservations.
"And then change it real quick," Nolan said.
"I never did like the word. And that's where the president of the United States lives. It doesn't compute."