I’m sure glad I don’t own the Washington Redskins.
I say this without even considering the current problem of having a head coach who let the franchise player ruin his knee. I’m glad I’m not Dan Snyder because the annual sniping about his team’s unfortunate name pulls me in opposite directions ethically and emotionally, and I don’t enjoy being Rumpelstiltskin.*
If I owned the Washington Redskins and was being pragmatic as well as ethical, I’d just bite the bullet (oops! Is that phrase banned now?) and change the team’s name. The debate is stupid, but it’s a distraction no sports franchise needs. I would dig in my heels against political correctness zealots who demand that the Atlanta Braves, Kansas City Chiefs, Chicago Blackhawks and other Native American-themed names get tossed in the ash heap of history, but “redskins” is undeniably a term of racist derision, despite the fact that it isn’t that in the context of football. In football, it just means those NFL players in red and gold that a whole city worships year round.
If, however, I wanted to take a much needed stand against the unethical tactics of political correctness bullies everywhere, refuse to yield to an argument that is as dishonest as it is illogical , I might well do what Snyder has done so far out of pure orneriness and spite, which is to say to the team’s critics, “Stick it!”
My conflict came into sharp focus this past week or so, as I heard the same moldy anti-Redskins arguments trotted out by celebrities, activists and sportswriters. When you do the right thing (changing the name) for the wrong reasons (dishonest or ignorant arguments, unjust political pressure, political correctness, etc.) you validate those reasons, and cause problems for others who are sure to be the next victims of them, The argument for eliminating “Redskins” is short and simple: it’s a racial epithet. That’s it. That’s all there is, But the activists who are fixated on the issue always add arguments like—
- “The name offends ‘some people.'” Any name can offend someone. Buckling to that logic bolsters the censorious methods of the political correctness police, who want a vanilla and lollipop world where nobody is allowed to offend anyone, even if it the most sensitive, sheltered citizen alive, and who believe that a single person shouting “I’m offended!” should be sufficient to abridge free speech for all.
- “All ethnic mascots and team names are inherently offensive.” This is pure political correctness propaganda and I’m tired of rebutting it (See here and here), which is what the activists want. The NCAA has famously adopted this silly thinking, to their great shame.
- “Other local professional teams, like the Baltimore Bullets, shed an offensive name.” Boy, do I hate this one. It praises one of the most ridiculous name changes of all time. The objection to “Baltimore Bullets” was based on ignorance, the name having nothing to do with literal bullets. It referred to the famed hustlers of the city’s colorful history, who were called “Baltimore Bullets” Basketball teams hustle, you know. When the team moved to the DC area, sportswriters began harping on the inappropriateness of having a team called the “Bullets” when D.C. was acquiring a reputation as a murder capital. So what did the team change its name to? “The Wizards!
Yes, a majority black city has a basketball team that honors the head of the Klu Klux Klan.
- “George Preston Marshall, who owned the team when the Redskins name was adopted, was an avowed racist.” Yes he was, and so what? He would not name his own team after a race he had animus towards, now would he? People don’t name things they care about after people they hate. The name was not intended as a racial slur.
As a born and bred Bostonian, from whence the Redskins came, let me once again spin the strange but true yarn about the team’s bungled naming. It was once called the Boston Braves, football’s twin of the baseball Boston Braves, who are still Braves but now reside in Atlanta (after a stop in Milwaukee). But Braves Field was small, and the N.L. Braves always played second-fiddle to the richer and more popular A.L. Red Sox, so Marshall decided to move his football team’s home games to Fenway Park. He didn’t feel like spending the money to change the team’s Native American logo, however. Still, an NFL team playing in the home of the Red Sox couldn’t call itself by the same name as the that team’s cross-city rivals.
Then someone, maybe a smart crossword puzzle whiz in the publicity department—I doubt it was Marshall himself—had a brainstorm. Change the name to “Redskins!” It still covered the Indian chief logo, and “braves” theme, while being a clever play on words that showed kinship to the team’s popular baseball hosts. Red SOX, Redskins, get it? Brilliant! Marshall, being whatever the opposite of politically correct is, didn’t think the name would offend anyone, and in those days when the NFL was far from the national presence it is today, and because Marshall’s team was playing in a city filled with Indian statues, art and symbolism (but few living Native Americans), he was right.
Letting arguments like the ones above carry the day would tempt me to keep the Redskins name just to slow the advance of public ignorance and poor decision-making. The effort of Washington’s Mayor Gray, however, might well clinch the issue, ensuring that the ‘Skins would keep their name until it was pried from my cold, dead hands.
Gray decided to follow in the disgraced footsteps of the big city mayors who disgraced themselves in the Chick-Fil-A controversy, by suggesting that any attempt by the Redskins to move back into the city (the ream’s current stadium is in Maryland) would involve discussions about changing the name. “I think that if they get serious with the team coming back to Washington, there’s no doubt there’s going to have to be a discussion about that,” Gray told reporters after a news conference, “and of course the team is going to have to work with us around that issue.”
Quick, students, what’s wrong with that statement? What’s wrong with the head of a city government stating that a private citizen, Snyder, has to conform his First Amendment speech–naming his own team—to government preferences? Not a single commentator in the D.C. media flagged this for what it is: blatant government infringement of free speech, and an abuse of power. The Washington Post, like all newspapers, lives and dies by the First Amendment, but when political correctness beckons, it’s reaction is “What First Amendment?”
Take this brain-dead observation, from Post blogger Mike DeBonis:
“Recall that the Redskins, under avowed racist owner George Preston Marshall, did not field a black player until 1962, after Interior Secretary Stewart Udall threatened to deny the team the use of what would later be named RFK Stadium unless it integrated. Could a future federal official pull a Udall and threaten to keep the Redskins off federal land unless they changed their name? That would indeed be a dealbreaker.”
Wrong! A federal official telling a team owner that racial discrimination will not be endorsed or supported in the nation’s Capital is clearly within official discretion and does not infringe on the Bill of Rights. Using government power to force a citizen to change the name of his team because the mayor doesn’t like its name is unconstitutional. I have no doubt that Gray can, without any negative consequences, get away with such excessive use of government power, but what he is proposing is still wrong.
That’s why I’m glad I’m not in Dan Snyder’s position. The name should go, but if it does, a lot of people who used dishonest and unethical tactics will be patting themselves on the back and declaring that the ends justified the means. I might want to keep the name “Redskins” just to foil them.
And that would be unethical, too.
* For the fairy tale-challenged, in the original version Rumpelstiltskin got so angry at being foiled that he grabbed his ankles and tore himself in half, right up the middle. Ouch.