Posted tagged ‘United Church of Christ’

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.

A football team by any other name

August 8, 2014

football-clip-art-aTeEjM8T4-2It’s football preseason time. A year ago, I wrote here about building momentum for changing the Washington professional team’s offensive name. “[Owner Dan] Snyder is ultimately losing the public relations battle,” said Zach Stoloff of the New England Sports Network, one of a bunch of sportswriters and editorialists who had spoken out against the name.

Though Snyder is obstinate, of course, this bandwagon has only picked up speed in the past 12 months. A partial summary:

–In September, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell shifted his stance. Only three months earlier, he’d defended the name to members of Congress; now he said on sports radio WJFK-FM, “We have to do everything that’s necessary to make sure that we’re representing the franchise in a positive way . . . and that if we are offending one person, we need to be listening and making sure that we’re doing the right things to try to address that.” Days later came an(other) editorial in the Washington Post and a protest by the Oneida Tribe of Indians of Wisconsin.

–In October, President Obama added to the chorus (though mildly, befitting a sitting president) when he said, “If I were the owner of the team and I knew that there was a name of my team—even if it had a storied history—that was offending a sizable group of people, I’d think about changing it.”

–In February, the San Francisco Chronicle joined Sports Illustrated’s Peter King and USA Today’s Christine Brennan, among many others, in saying they’d no longer use the official name.

–In May, after Majority Leader Harry Reid called on Snyder from the Senate floor to change the name—and released a letter with signatures from half the Senate saying the same—the team foolishly called via Twitter for followers to strike back. Instead, the team “ended up with an interception,” said the Wall Street Journal, when immediate response agreed with Reid.

–In June, the United Church of Christ’s regional governing body (180 congregations, 40,000 members from Richmond to New Jersey) voted unanimously to ask members to boycott the team name and gear. The issue then went to the church’s national governing body: 5,100 congregations, 1 million members. Meanwhile, a California tribe paid for a protest ad to run during TV broadcasts of the NBA’s championship series in eight major cities. The ad won major media praise.

June was a busy month. In more media news, the Seattle Times decided not to use the team name at all (previously it had used it once per story for reference). It cited most of the list of newspapers I had as well as the Orange County Register and the Salt Lake Tribune.

And the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office canceled six of the team’s trademark registrations, calling the name disparaging. The decision didn’t force a change—some legal authorities said it had little effect at all—but it did dilute the team’s legal protection against infringement, which may mean a hit in the wallet. The team’s lawyer said he plans to appeal the decision, which could take years, and during that process the registrations will remain effective.

–In July, Attorney General Eric Holder weighed in on the talk show This Week: “The name ought to be changed. It’s an offensive name. … It’s a team with a storied history that has huge amounts of support in Washington, DC, and in the 21st century they could increase their fan base, increase their level of support, if they did something that from my perspective that is so obviously right.”

So did U.S. District Court Judge Peter Messitte of Maryland, presiding over a lawsuit against the local team (on a different matter) by New York Giants linebacker Barrett Green. In a footnote early in his ruling, Messitte stated: “Pro Football’s team is popularly known as the Washington ‘Redskins,’ but the Court will refrain from using the team name unless reference is made to a direct quote where the name appears.” Instead, he would use the term “the Washington Team.”

Added the Post, “The note comes months after Messitte ordered attorneys in the case not to use the team’s name in his courtroom, according to one of the lawyers.”

Also in July, “CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus said that … during the upcoming season individual announcers and production teams could make their own decisions about whether to say” the name. McManus acknowledged to the Hollywood Reporter that the controversy was “reaching a hotter level,” and the story noted that ESPN and probably CBS (home of Bob Costas) had had high-level discussions about use of the team name.

–Now in August, Governor Martin O’Malley of Maryland, where the team plays home games, had this to say to a TV interviewer: “We hope that in every generation we become more understanding of one another, more inclusive as a people, and more respectful of the dignity of every individual and every culture, so I think it probably is time for the Redskins to change their name.” O’Malley will step down in January, but his likely successor, Anthony Brown, has publicly supported a name change, too.

The Insultingly Named, Obnoxiously Hyped Washington NFL Franchise isn’t having a great year even before playing one game. I could say that’s par for the course—but that would be mixing metaphors as well as piling on.

Copyright 2014 Ellen M. Ryan. All rights reserved.