…and isn’t that a revolting development?
Few things infuriate me more than when unethical conduct by an individual or organization force me to side with the supporters of a position or a cause that I oppose myself. Last year, to cite the most egregious example, I found myself in the same camp with the National Rifle Association, Ted Nugent and worse when anti-gun zealots, uncritically backed by the news media, used dishonest, misleading, irrational and emotional appeals to try to pass more stringent gun ownership regulations on the wave of national horror over the Sandy Hook shooting. Indeed, the more fake statistics and shameless slippery slope arguments (“If we can save the life of only one child…”) that were aimed at guns and law-abiding gun owners, the more I saw the wisdom of Second Amendment absolutism.
Thanks to the exorbitant and irresponsible rhetoric by the likes of Diane Feinstein, Joe Biden, Andrew Cuomo, Piers Morgan, Jim Carrey and others—Don’t tell ME what I “need” to protect my family and home; there’s a possible serial killer on the loose in my Alexandria, Virginia neighborhood at this very moment who has been randomly knocking on doors and shooting people—I no longer trust the government to make rational decisions that affect my options as a potential gun owner. Good work, guys. Before you started using kids as props, lying about the number of shootings, and sounding for all the world like a nation trying to make sure only the government could own legal weapons, I was a supporter of more stringent firearms regulations. You lost me. I am officially convinced that we may need guns to protect ourselves against power-abusing people like you.
Now members of Congress are trying to strong-arm Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder into changing the name of his football team, using the power of the government to pressure him, through the National Football League, into bending to their will on a matter that is absolutely none of their business. Great. Now I have to stand shoulder to shoulder with Snyder, whom we in the Washington area know as a spoiled rich kid, a bully, an egomaniac and a meddling fool who has progressively reduced the region’s beloved football team to tragic joke.
And you should stand with him too, if you think our Bill of Rights is worth preserving.
In a copy of a letter released over the weekend, Washington Senator Maria Cantwell (D) and Representative Tom Cole, an Oklahoma Republican and, more to the point, a member of the Native American Caucus, obliquely threatened the National Football League with loss of their educational foundation’s tax exempt status unless it forces Snyder into calling his team, that he owns, and he paid and pays for, something Cantwell and Cole find acceptable. “We believe that the fact that this term does not honor — but rather disparages — Indian people and tribes is what will and should guide federal policymakers,” they wrote, which also accuses the NFL of being “on the wrong side of history” to “perpetuate and profit from the continued degradation of tribes and Indian people.”
Government may not do this sort of thing, and representatives of the government who try to use the threat of government interference to dictate what is appropriate speech, thought, or product names should be condemned, rejected, and shunned by everyone regardless of political affiliation. While the letter was crafted with an eye to plausible deniability when the First Amendment is raised, as it is certain to be—“Oh no! We would never try to force anyone to do that! We were just expressing our opinions, as representatives of our constituencies!”—Cantwell, who, like Cole, has a large Native American contingent in her state, was less careful in her statements to the news media.
The Chairwoman of the Senate’s Indian Affairs Committee said in an interview that lawmakers would “definitely” examine the N.F.L.’s tax-exempt status and other ways to pressure the league. “You’re getting a tax break for educational purposes, but you’re still embracing a name that people see as a slur and encouraging it.” Oh, well, if “people” “see” someone’s exercise of their rights as an American as a “slur,” then by all means let’s have Congress force them to be politically correct. This is arrogant. This is presumptuous. This is an abuse of power and an assault on free speech. Anyone, including any Native American, who does not reject the attempt by Sen. Cantwell, Cole and others, in their grandstanding move to appeal to the nation’s thought-police, is foolishly setting up the mechanism for the next target to be…them. And me. All of us.
Cantwell also took issue with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s statement, prior to the Super Bowl, that Snyder’s team has presented his team’s name in a way that has honored Native Americans. Cantwell is being willfully dense, is dense, or is simply mouthing a moldy and illogical argument that has been a favorite among Redskins-bashers for as long as I have followed the controversy. Of course the name honors Native Americans. Communities, colleges and sports franchises don’t name teams that people love and cheer for and care about and wear their logos on their windbreakers, caps and jackets after people, institutions, concepts, historical events and figures that they are trying to insult. The Boston Celtics honors the Irish. The Minnesota Vikings honors the warrior ancestors of the many Scandinavian residents of that state. All the Native American team names are intended to evoke the traditions, courage and nobility of our continent’s native people. Yes, of all of these, the Redskins name does the worst job of it, and some Native Americans object, as is their right. They have a right to keep objecting, and Dan Snyder, who, if he had any sense, really should have changed the name when he took over the team, has an absolute right to tell them to go do a rain dance someplace else.
Characteristically, Snyder apparently hired an unqualified goof as his spokesperson on the matter.“With all the important issues Congress has to deal with, such as a war in Afghanistan to deficits to health care, don’t they have more important issues to worry about than a football team’s name?” the spokesman, Tony Wyllie, wrote in an email. “And given the fact that the name of Oklahoma means ‘red people’ in Choctaw, this request is a little ironic.” The last part is a nice factoid, but the first section is pure rationalization, and the worst one on the list, #22, The Comparative Virtue Excuse, “There are worst things.” Actually, it is a special variation on #22 that I need to add, “The Speeder’s Exemption”: “Officer, don’t you have thieves to catch and murders to solve? Shouldn’t you be doing your job rather than flagging me down for going a lousy 8 miles over the limit?“
I find this a bit frightening. Are we all so inured to government intrusions on our core rights that a blatant attempt at using the threat of government action to control speech doesn’t instantly set off an ethics alarm? Why wasn’t Wylie’s immediate response, “Mr. Snyder has the right to call his football team whatever he chooses, and Congress has no right to impose the views of others regarding what is an appropriate name on him through threats of government action”?
I don’t like Dan Snyder, I don’t like the Redskins name, I don’t root for the team, I think the NFL is an unethical sports league and that pro football is an unethical sport. As of now, however, I am pledged to stand with all of them as they fight–and they have an obligation to fight— to avoid joining the rapidly growing number of victims of government abuse of power, attacks on individual freedom, and political correctness.
CORRECTION NOTE: In the first version of the post, Cantwell was mistakenly referred to as a representative. She is, of course, a U.S. Senator. Thanks to my friend Dave Elias for the correction. Then again, he said that he first thought the post was about TOM Snyder…