In an interview with an Associated Press reporter Saturday morning, President Obama said he would change the name of the Washington Redskins if he owned the team to avoid offending Native Americans:
It’s a typically long-winded answer, but that’s fine. The problem came when this excerpt was reported as a stand-alone story, and brought comments from the idiot-sphere along the lines of “How can Obama talk about this when the country has really big problems and the government is shutdown?” and on and on and on.
Bottom line: he talked about the Redskins name because he was asked a direct question about it. That’s something most of Obama’s detractors never do. They’d rather obfuscate and foam at the mouth about nonsense than give a thoughtful response to a simple question. Obama knows that changing the Redskins’ name isn’t his decision, but he was asked for his opinion, and he gave it. That’s not the same as the haters who give their opinion whether or not anyone wants it.
As for the underlying question about the name, I have struggled with this one myself.
In the 13 years I was on the air in DC, I didn’t hesitate to root for the Redskins or have Mark Bradford, (the talented song parodist who contributed regularly to my morning radio show) produce weekly tunes cheering the team on to victory under the name The Redskin Rockers. A listener who owned a t-shirt company made custom Redskins shirts for me to give away on the air. I always went to see one game in person each season, watched the rest at home or a friend’s house, and was in the stands when they won Super Bowls 22 and 26.
I never stopped calling the team The Redskins, as USA Today sports columnist Christine Brennan has recently (listen to my conversation with her about decision), even when I began to see it as problematic.
Under legendary owner Jack Kent Cooke and current owner Dan Snyder, the team has always resisted any suggestion that its name is racist or objectionable. After Obama’s comments, Lanny Davis — who served as special counsel to President Clinton for a couple of years and is now an attorney for the Skins — issued a statement that quoted a poll by the Annenberg Institute that said 9 out of 10 Native Americans were not bothered by the name Redskins. But that poll was done in 2004, nearly a decade ago, and attitudes about many social issues (e.g. gay marriage) have changed dramatically since then.
Davis’ statement also quoted an AP poll from April of this year which showed that 80% of Americans in a national sample don’t think the Redskins’ name should be changed. That’s irrelevant, too, because such matters should not be decided by public opinion. Only one rule should be applied: is it discriminatory and offensive?
The answer is clearly yes. No modern team would even consider having a derogatory name like Spics, Fags, Dikes, Kikes, Wops, or Niggers — so why is Redskins acceptable? Other than Native Americans, no group of humans is emblazoned as the logo of a professional sports team. The San Diego Padres don’t have a cartoonish logo of a priest in church garb, but the Cleveland Indians have one in Chief Wahoo. The Atlanta Braves encourage fans to do the Tomahawk Chop.
The Redskins claim legacy and tradition as reasons to continue using the name, but that’s failing to recognize that America keeps changing. Just because you’ve always done it one way, doesn’t mean you can’t do it another way. There was a time when only white men played in the NFL, but the league eventually integrated. Which team was the last to hire black players? The Washington Redskins, in a not-so-stunning reversal of its “legacy.”
Perhaps the real reason for the resistance is that the team would incur some expense in changing the name (estimates put it at $20 million, though I don’t understand why it’s so high), but in a town as football-crazy as Washington — where every home game sells out and there are over 60,000 on the waiting list for season tickets, despite having only three winning seasons in this century — the fan base would still be there. They would happily buy all-new merchandise to replace whatever they own with the Redskins logo.
Or perhaps it’s simply Dan Snyder’s big mouth that keeps the team from acquiescing. After all, he told a reporter to “put it in caps” when he said the name would never change as long as he owned the team. An ego as big as Snyder’s might not be able to walk back from such an affirmative statement. While it’s unlikely that Snyder will change his mind anytime soon, or that Roger Goodell and the NFL will pressure him to do so, there’s no doubt that public sentiment continues to swing in favor of dropping the name. I agree with Brennan that, within a generation at the most, we’ll look back in disbelief that the name was ever allowed to exist.
Meanwhile, around the league, the word “Redskins” is being used most often to answer one question: “Which team is going to get crushed by the Cowboys this Sunday night?”