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Thursday, December 8, 2016

Twenty-four dollars.

That, supposedly, was the price Governor Peter Minuit paid American Indians for the island of Manhattan in 1625. It’s a tale historians find suspect.

In the first place, whatever Minuit paid was in goods valued at 60 17th-century Dutch guilders; the calculation that this equaled 24 U.S. dollars was made two centuries later — on what basis, evidently, no one can say. In the second place, the Indians with whom he traded had no understanding of the European idea that land could be sold, no conception of it as a thing one could own.

But whatever the details of the transaction, the moral of the story has remained beacon-clear for four centuries: The Indians got taken. It was hardly the last time they would be snookered in their dealings with the newcomers from across the water.

So it is gratifying to watch the response of at least some Native Americans as the professional football team that plays for the city of Washington unveils a new bit of flimflam in response to ever-growing demands that it find something else to call itself. You likely know the team’s official name, but if not, you won’t read it here. Call them the Washington Racial Slurs, a name fully descriptive of the anti-Indian insult under which they play.

The Oneida Indian Nation has been pushing the Slurs to change their name. A number of sports reporters and media outlets have vowed to refrain from using the ugly word and even conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer recently came out against it.

Slurs owner Dan Snyder has tried several stratagems to blunt this campaign. He has tried bluster (“We’ll never change the name. It’s that simple. NEVER — you can use caps.”). He has tried the appearance of reason (“I’ve listened carefully to the commentary and perspectives on all sides, and I respect the feelings of those who are offended by the team name.”)

Last month, he tried money.