It was pretty clear when the NFL owners broke up their meetings in Washington, D.C. earlier this week that the subject of the Washington NFL team’s nickname had been discussed. And the consensus was this: commissioner — do something to try to calm the waters.
Roger Goodell gave it his best shot. In order to keep Washington owner Dan Snyder from throwing one of his legendary temper tantrums, Goodell came out and told the media that the team’s nickname was a “proud tradition.”
Tradition is the fallback defense for those who have no other defense for something. The nickname of a football team isn’t nearly as significant or disturbing on any level as things like slavery, women not voting or segregation, but it is certainly worth noting that their defenders often cited tradition or the fact that, ‘we’ve always done it that way,’ OR — as Snyder, Goodell and company like to claim, that the people affected don’t care or don’t mind.
Read a history book. Slave owners often told people, ‘we treat our coloreds very well,’ as a defense for what they were doing. Men who fought suffrage for women insisted that women didn’t want the responsibility of voting and pro-segregationists said that integration simply couldn’t work; that white folks and black folks were not meant to be mixed.
The Redskins nickname isn’t nearly as important as any of those issues. That doesn’t mean it isn’t wrong.
“The Redskins have always presented it (the nickname) as part of their tradition, their history,” Goodell said. “ ‘Hail to the Redskins,’ is part of that proud tradition.”
The way the team presents the nickname and the fact that THEY consider it tradition is irrelevant. Goodell knows the argument is shallow, which is why he followed up by acknowledging that there is an issue.
“Whenever you have a situation like this, you have to listen and recognize that some other people may have different perspectives,” he continued. “And clearly there are cases where that’s true here. That’s what I suggested and I’ve been open about it that we need to listen and carefully listen and make sure we’re doing what’s right.”
Those words are pretty empty too — when someone as smart as Goodell starts repeating himself — ‘we need to listen and carefully listen,’ you know he’s flailing — because they say nothing. Yes, the league will meet with the Oneida Indian Nation soon but there’s no commitment to do anything beyond that.
The question Goodell and the other 31 owners, who refused comment as a group beyond Colts owner Jim Irsay admitting it had been discussed during dinner with the league’s lobbyists — who are obviously concerned about growing opposition from both Congress and the President — must ask is this: why is this happening NOW. It isn’t as if Redskins is a new nickname, it has been around since the 1930s and the movement to change nicknames associated with native Americans dates back at least to 1971 when Stanford stopped being the Indians and became the Cardinal. Other colleges, including Marquette and St. John’s have done the same thing.
The reason for all this is Snyder, who was asked by USA Today reporter Erik Brady about it in May and, in his uniquely arrogant way, replied, “the name will never be changed — put that in CAPS — never.”
If Snyder was as smart or as political as Goodell he would have simply fallen back on the tradition cop out and said something like, ‘of course we’re always concerned with the way people feel and I’m always open to discussion on any topic.”
But that’s not who Snyder is. He believes being a billionaire means he’s above the law and above treating people — unless he thinks they’re important — with respect. The list of people who actually LIKE Snyder who aren’t on his payroll is almost as long as the list of people who think tennis or hockey will replace football as the national pastime in the near future.
Snyder crystallized the issue with his arrogance. Now, the number of voices being raised against the nickname continues to grow steadily. Snyder can bring in all the lawyers he wants and all the media apologists he can round up to cite either skewed or out-dated polling — or tradition — and the issue isn’t going away.
The apologists like to claim this is all about political correctness. No, it’s not. People insisting that women’s basketball should be covered as much as men’s basketball even though there is 10 percent as much interest is political correctness. Saying that calling people ‘Redskins,’ is offensive to quite a few people has nothing to do with political correctness; it has to do with what’s right and what’s wrong.
Some defenders ask why nicknames like Braves, Indians and Chiefs aren’t under attack. They probably should be. Even though they aren’t AS offensive as Redskins, they can still be seen as offensive. The reason they aren’t under the same kind of attack is because their owner isn’t jumping up and down, stamping his feet and saying, ‘no one can question me because I own a football team!’
Still, if Congress does get involved and a bill is proposed, it should probably include those sorts of generalities too. If a team is named after a specific tribe — Seminoles, for example — and that tribe doesn’t object to the use of its name, then that’s fine. Just as those who live or work on the water in Seattle aren’t offended by ‘Mariners,’ or people who live in New England aren’t bothered by having a local team named, ‘Patriots.’ Those terms aren’t offensive and can be seen as compliments.
Even so, naming teams after animals or things (Jets) might be less risky.
The bottom line here is that the end is coming for Snyder and for the Redskins nickname. It may not come this year or next but it will come. Here’s why: because the other 31 owners will, at some point, realize that the bad publicity generated every time Snyder or one of his paid or un-paid apologists opens their mouth on the subject just isn’t worth it anymore.
The irony is this: if Snyder was half as smart as he thinks he is, he would recognize what a wonderful opportunity he has been handed. He could — for once — play the good guy by announcing that even though he grew up loving the Redskins and singing their song, he understands that times have changed and what was once accepted, no longer is — as happens in society all the time.
He can say he knows that some people find the name offensive and while that has never been the intent of the team, he gets it. Then he can unveil a new nickname and makes millions when people rush out to buy up all the old Redskins-logo gear before its gone and millions more when they buy up all the new nickname gear shortly after the new name is announced.
Of course Snyder isn’t nearly that smart or nearly that sensitive. He will have to be TOLD — in a back room of course — that the nickname has to go. It WILL happen — put that in caps. It is no longer a question of if, only a question of when.