Posted tagged ‘Redskins’

A football team that many refuse to name, Part 4

August 23, 2016

football-clip-art-aTeEjM8T4-2The Washington, DC, area’s professional football team is an embarrassment, and I don’t just mean its longtime on-field record. Every time I hear a newscaster or read a sportswriter refer more than once to “the burgundy and gold” or “Washington’s team,” I know he or she is deliberately avoiding saying the name of the team. Yeah, you know … (whispering) … the Redskins.

“We all make mistakes, so it makes sense if you were misguided and you participated in [cultural] appropriation without realizing it could be harmful,” reads a Web post I came across a few weeks ago on another topic. “It’s one thing if you own up to the fact that you accidentally did something that caused harm, and do your best not to do it again. It’s an entirely different story if you insist on continuing to appropriate just because you ‘don’t mean to hurt anyone.’ ” (Emphasis in the original.)

The movement to change the name of the capital’s pro football team suffered a setback this spring, but that’s a battle in a war that will ultimately be won. For now, a look at the year in cultural-appropriation skirmishes, football edition.

September 2015: Who cares about Deflate-gate when the Washington NFL team still has a rotten name? So said Senate minority leader Harry Reid in a CNN interview. “The name of the Washington football team is disparaging to a large number of my constituents, and he demeans them every day,” Reid said, referring to team owner Dan Snyder. On Twitter, the senator repeated: “I find it stunning that the NFL cares more about how much air is in a football than it does about a racist franchise name.”

October 2015: California (where else?) passed the nation’s first statewide ban on the ‘R’ name for sports teams, affecting four public schools. Individual school districts had already done so, including in Madison, Wisconsin, and Houston, Texas, according to Reuters. That led to another Washington Post editorial advocating a name change. In the presidential race, said Reuters, “former Florida governor Jeb Bush and billionaire Donald Trump have said they do not see a need to change the name.”

November 2015: Quote without comment, as The New Yorker sometimes says. From the Washington Post: “Nearly four months after a federal judge ordered the cancellation of the Washington Redskins’ federal trademark registrations for disparaging Native Americans, the National Football League is appealing with a provocative tactic: listing the names of porn, clothing and beer companies that use offensive language, but nonetheless have the support of the U.S. Patent and Trademark office. ‘By way of example only, the following marks are registered today; Take Yo Panties Off clothing; Dangerous Negro shirts … Midget-Man condoms and inflatable sex dolls,’ the Redskins lawyer wrote in their opening brief filed Friday with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit, based in Richmond. The lawyers added a footnote with 31 more trademark registrations, many of them unprintable in The Washington Post.”

December 2015: Snort! Headline on sports site SBNation: “Washington’s NFL Team Accidentally Revealed It Runs That ‘Fan’ Twitter Account Supporting Its Name.” Redskins Facts is a website/Twitter account supposedly operated by rabid fans who want to keep the name. The story, which made national news, noted that a tweet correcting a previous tweet on the official account went out simultaneously December 13 on both the official account and the “fan” one. Previously, the Washington Post’s Fact Checker blog had found the site intentionally misleading, and Slate had “strong evidence” that the website was created by a crisis-management firm.

January 2016: If you were listening to the January 22 broadcast of “The Dan Le Batard Show” on ESPN Radio, you heard mention of “the Washington Racial Slurs.” Bwah! The FishbowlNY daily media email reached back to a Cleveland Plain Dealer item from August 13, in which Jeff Darcy called team owner Dan Snyder “the Donald Trump of the NFL,” noted that “at least 23 Native American tribes have called upon the owner to change the team’s name,” and flagged the Cleveland Indians’ Chief Wahoo mascot as equally disparaging: It “actually matches Washington’s team name better than their own helmet logo.” He concludes, “As long as both teams continue to identify themselves with racial slurs and stereotypes, they will still be losers.”

February 2016: In recent years, the local team has been playing across the pond to show off “American football.” Now two members of the British Parliament have written to the NFL to say change the team’s name or send a different team—“one that does not promote a racial slur.” They added that the game could also be a problem for Wembley Stadium and the BBC. Even the Brits get it! The Oneida Indian Nation piled on, said CBS Sports, “blast[ing] the NFL for creating an international incident” by sending the team to London in October.

April 2016: CNN Money: “The Washington Redskins’ case surrounding whether or not the team can trademark its controversial name may go to the Supreme Court.” Yup, it just filed a petition following that Patent and Trademark Office decision back in June 2014 that it can’t get a trademark because the name is “scandalous, immoral, or disparaging.” To which the team said (as in November), hey, look at all these other things that are scandalous, immoral, or disparaging—and they have trademarks! Which is kind of a point. The team wants its case to be heard along with that of an Asian-American rock group called, yes, the Slants.

May 2016: According to the Washington Times (a right-wing paper, by the way), “The results of the survey of 504 American Indians by The Washington Post were identical to those of a 2004 Annenberg Public Policy Center poll, meaning that a decade’s worth of advocacy by top progressives and media outlets against the Redskins name has moved the needle not a whit.” This pronouncement referred to a national poll showing that 90 percent of Native Americans say the team name doesn’t offend them. Prominent Native leaders promptly denounced the results even as Snyder and the team trumpeted them, and, said the Post, “news that such a large percentage of Native Americans do not care about the name could provide the necessary political cover for District leaders to welcome Snyder’s club to return to the site of RFK Stadium, where the Redskins used to play.”

Where did that leave the many sports journalists and the like who stopped using the name? Peter King of Sports Illustrated wrote a column on why he still won’t use it. As 21 percent of those surveyed felt the name disrespected Native Americans, King said, and the word is still a dictionary-defined slur, why go back? Former Post columnist Mike Wise, writing for ESPN’s The Undefeated; eternal NBC sportscaster Bob Costas; and USA Today’s Christine Brennan agreed, all wondering why a poll should influence a moral decision.

“If ethical decisions were decided by majority rule, the poor and the weak would have no moral standing; indeed, every minority group would be outvoted,” Wise said. “Public opinion is an evolving animal. What we think in the moment doesn’t necessarily reflect what’s morally right.”

It’s not just individual sportswriters. ran a column making not only an ethical but a business case for a name change. Washington City Paper is one of many newspapers and other media outlets that have an official policy of not naming this particular name. City Paper will continue to use “Pigskins,” backed by a February survey in which 58 percent of readers agreed that the team name is offensive. According to the Washington Post—whose editorial board will continue to avoid the name except when referring to the controversy itself—the only major media representative to revert is Sports Illustrated’s Frank Deford, whose comment boils down to “majority rules.”

But as Mike Wise said, that’s not the way democracy or humanity works. I’ll bet it’s not ultimately the way the team’s name works, either. Anyone want to bet which departs first, the current name or the current owner?

Copyright 2016 Ellen M. Ryan. All rights reserved.

A football team that (still) needs another name

August 25, 2015


We’re in the third quarter on this one! Meaning that we seem to be getting closer to a name change for the Washington-area professional football team—and that this is the third year I’ve tracked our progress. Let’s take a look at name-related news from the past year ….

August 2014: News reports mention broadcasters who won’t say the team name on the air, including “two notable NFL analysts and former Super Bowl champions,” according to Yahoo News. “The controversy surrounding the nickname has taken on all forms, and for CBS lead analyst Phil Simms and NBC studio analyst Tony Dungy, their protest will be to avoid saying it.” As writer Frank Schwab explained, “Simms told AP he’s not taking a side in the debate about whether the nickname is offensive, but he’s just sensitive to the complaints. But the controversy has now forced NFL broadcasters to pick sides, simply by questioning whether they’ll use the name on air or not.” Tom Jackson of ESPN said he was leaning toward following Dungy’s example.

Also in the news: a CBS rules analyst and former NFL referee who says he has never used the “proper” name and has refused to referee Washington’s games since 2006.

The month’s biggest news on this front was the Washington Post editorial board’s decision to stop using the team name. “This page has for many years urged the local football team to change its name. ‘The term “Redskins,” ’ we wrote in 1992, ‘is really pretty offensive,’ ” the editorial read, continuing, “while we wait for the National Football League to catch up with thoughtful opinion and common decency, we have decided that, except when it is essential for clarity or effect, we will no longer use the slur ourselves…. as Mr. Carey noted, every time the R-word is used, something disrespectful is happening.” It was a change only for editorials, not for the sports or news pages, but it was a good step.

September 2014: More than 100 Native American and social justice groups asked thousands of broadcasters to refrain from using the team name. The coalition cited ESPN’s Lisa Salter and CBS’s James Brown as well as Simms and Dungy as among those who do not use the name on air.

The same story mentioned an ESPN survey of 286 NFL players finding that 58 percent think the name should stay and 42 percent think it should go. In a separate survey of 51 players on the team in question, 26 said keep it, 1 said change it, and 24 “declined to answer.”

Then there was the opening episode of South Park that took on owner Dan Snyder, the team, and its name. A startup company needs a name, and which name is available after losing trademark protection? Snyder: “You cannot let my people be belittled like this.” Bwah!

October 2014: The National Council of La Raza, the country’s largest Hispanic civil rights organization, joined the call for the team (and the NFL) to change the name. Last year, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, whose members include the NAACP and the American Civil Liberties Union, did the same and urged the team to “refrain from the use of any other images, mascots, or behaviors that are or could be deemed harmful or demeaning to Native American cultures or peoples.”

November 2014: Another month, another protest, this time 3,500 to 4,000 people (mostly Native Americans) chanting “not your mascot” outside the Washington-Minnesota game in Minneapolis. It was perhaps the largest such protest, ensuring lots of media coverage. Another reason: The stadium was built in part with a $10 million donation from the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community, and a plaza honors the state’s 11 federally recognized tribes. “Controversy had swirled around the Vikings game since August because of demands by the University of Minnesota to limit use of the team name and logo inside the stadium,” the Washington Post wrote. “But school officials insisted that they could not dictate behavior to the Vikings organization, which is paying the university $300,000 a game to use the stadium while its new facility in Minneapolis is being built.”

Does it count as news if it’s a surprise to no one? Maryland governor-elect Larry Hogan immediately announced that he liked the current team name and saw no need to change it.

Capping the month, Rolling Stone named Dan Snyder—“the staunch defender of an unambiguously racist name”—the worst owner in all of sports. The magazine spent a long, detailed paragraph on his “invoking tradition to defend the indefensible” before even alluding to the team’s abysmal playing record.

December 2014: Proving that some supporters are at least as tone-deaf (to put it kindly) as the owner and his team, a group raising funds to fight cancer organized an event it called Scalp Out Cancer: Because Bald Is Beautiful. “That’s insane. Really? They’re that clueless?” said Tara Houska, who pulled together a rally against the team name near its own stadium at month’s end—just as the fundraiser was to take place. The fundraiser was renamed Shave Out Cancer, though its coordinator, Michael Kennedy, told the Washington Post the event’s original name had not been a reference to the Native American mascot.

February 2015: Members of the Sandy Spring Friends School student government researched the issue and decided to ban the local pro football team’s name throughout campus, including on clothing. The ban applies to faculty as well. Lately students have been wearing apparel with the logo but not the name: “They still want to support their team, which I totally am behind,” a co-clerk of the government told the Gazette, which has since ceased publication. “But they also want to support Native Americans.”

May 2015: The whole team lives in Virginia, two-thirds of season-ticket holders do too, and Virginia’s governor wants the team to move there. Now Arlington County’s board has passed a resolution calling on the team to change its name, calling it “objectionable … a racist slur and derogatory.” The board’s vice chair, J. Walter Tejada, said the current name “serves to divide us, diminishes our humanity, and erodes our integrity”—but a change would be “a fresh start” were the team to relocate. Hint, hint. (Tejada said he also considers the name a personal insult, as he immigrated from El Salvador as a youth and is descended from Mayans.)

June 2015: The United Church of Christ is the latest religious group to call on the team to change. According to the Washington Post, UCC asked its nearly 1 million members to boycott games and merchandise until that goal is achieved. “The church has condemned the use of Native American imagery for sports teams since 1991,” the story said. “It has also asked the Cleveland Indians to change its name and controversial mascot, Chief Wahoo.”

Meanwhile, “a bill at the state Capitol would make California the first state to ban public schools from using ‘Redskins’ as their nickname or mascot,” according to Capital Public Radio. The bill has passed the Assembly and its first Senate committee.

July 2015: The Washington team has made noises about coming back to the city, maybe to the site of RFK Stadium, where it played for years before decamping for Maryland. But Interior Secretary Sally Jewell has told DC Mayor Muriel Bowser that the National Park Service (which owns the RFK land) would not allow a new stadium there without a new name. “I think we would never consider naming a team the Blackskins or the Brownskins or the Whiteskins. So personally, I find it surprising that in this day and age, the name is not different,” Jewell had told ABC News.

Later, a headline: “Judge upholds cancellation of Redskins trademarks in a legal and symbolic setback for the team.” This time it’s a federal judge in Northern Virginia. Says the Washington Post, “The cancellation doesn’t go into effect until the Redskins have exhausted the appeals process in the federal court system”—though the team can use the name and logo under state law regardless. And yet another high school team is dropping the name it shares with the Washington team.

And in August: In a controversial move, team owner Snyder has been donating through his Washington Redskins Original Americans Foundation. Now South Dakota’s Cheyenne River Sioux council has voted to reject the funds—and ordered its chair and the 8,000-member tribe to “cease all unsanctioned communication with the Washington Redskins and any group or person associated with them.” Before the vote, Councilmember Ryman LeBeau posted online a photo of an uncashed $25,000 foundation check and wrote, “Sold our souls. Price was cheap.”

Whew! On that note, here’s to a 2015-16 season of more activism, fewer trademarks, more protests, and less name use for the Insultingly Named, Obnoxiously Hyped Washington NFL Franchise.

Copyright 2015 Ellen M. Ryan. All rights reserved.

What’s in a name? (Football edition)

August 18, 2013

I actually have an opinion on something related to football—other than how many home runs the team should score—and I’m ahead of the curve. It’s astounding.

After several years of grumbling and rumblings from people who hate the name of the Washington region’s professional football team, suddenly there’s a groundswell of opposition from those who buy ink by the barrel. The anti-racism people, Native Americans who take offense, people who see links between the team’s bigoted past and its epithet of a name, folks who can’t stand megalomaniacal owner Dan Snyder (who recently said, “We’ll never change the name …. NEVER—you can use caps”) … all are swept up in a summer wave of media that are refusing to print or say the team name, which ostensibly honors Native Americans.

These media outlets now include Slate, the New Republic, and Mother Jones. In February DCist made its policy official. In October 2012, Washington City Paper started using the results of a reader poll, in which 50 percent favored the substitute name Pigskins, which works on several levels. All these are following in the longtime footsteps of the Kansas City Star, the Oregonian, and—except on first reference in the body of the story—the Seattle Times.

Individual journalists who publicly repudiate the name include Mike Wise, Sally Jenkins, Courtland Milloy, Robert McCartney, and Patrick Pexton of the Washington Post, Erik Brady of USA Today, Tim Graham of the Buffalo News, John Smallwood of the Philadelphia Daily News,’s Gregg Easterbrook, and NBC4’s Jim Vance.

Other notables include Washington football Hall of Famers Art Monk and Darrell Green, current and former DC mayors Vince Gray and Marion Barry, most of the DC Council, 10 members of Congress, former FCC chair Reed Hundt (“XXXSkins”), and Green Bay Packers CEO Mark Murphy.

Granted, most media outlets on the refusal list don’t focus on football, let alone Washington football. The Washington Post, ESPN, and other major media are still going with the official name, and so is the vast majority of fans. But as a student of American social movements, I tell you: The writing is on the wall for this name.

Derek Donovan, Kansas City Star public editor, September 2012: “I find it inconceivable that the NFL still allows such a patently offensive name and mascot to represent the league in 2012…. I see no compelling reason for any publisher to reprint an egregiously offensive term as a casual matter of course.”

Tim Graham, former writer who’s back at the Buffalo News, June 2013: “Beyond the period at the end of this sentence, I intend never to use the word redskin again…. Only one major professional sports team proudly uses a racial smear as a nickname.”

John Smallwood, Philly Daily News, June 2013: “In practical use, the R-Word is no different from calling an African-American the N-Word, a Jewish person the K-Word, a Hispanic the W-Word, an Irish-American the M-Word, or an Italian American a different W-word. All are meant to insult, dehumanize and offend. Using them is a display of hatred. Yet, the R-Word is the only one that we dare celebrate in sports as a profit-making enterprise.”

David Plotz, Slate, August 2013: “Here’s a quick thought experiment: Would any team, naming itself today, choose ‘Redskins’ or adopt the team’s Indian-head logo? Of course it wouldn’t.”

Doug Farrar, Yahoo Sports, October 2012: “So, perhaps it is time for the Redskins to do what a few conscientious editors have already done. Change the name. Not because it’s expedient, and not because of political pressure, but because any team that asks for the trust of the public should hold up a better and more promising legacy.”

Zach Stoloff, New England Sports Network, August 2013: “This is a further sign that Snyder is ultimately losing the public relations battle, and will likely have to change the name sooner or later.”

Words matter. Me, I haven’t used the “R” word in more than four years. Here’s what I use instead among friends: The Insultingly Named, Obnoxiously Hyped Washington NFL Franchise. As an individual, I can’t claim to be part of this growing media groundswell. But I can be proud of being on the right side of history—and proud of those with more to risk who are as well.

Copyright 2013 Ellen M. Ryan. All rights reserved.