Posted tagged ‘Washington’

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.

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.

Regionalisms and accain’ts

December 8, 2012

I write here about words, particularly written words and related business matters. Now for a word about spoken words. Having spent most of the year in the company of people with strong Southern accents — more unusual-for-around-here accents than I’ve heard since college — accents and regionalisms have been on my mind.

People tend to think of Washington as something of a delineator between North and South here on the East Coast. Granted, it’s the capital and the biggest city for quite a while, but look at a map: The District is well north of center. Sticking only with Caucasian accents — I’m not at all good with anything else — the Mid-Atlantic doesn’t get a real difference heading south until Richmond. “Old Washington” is said to have an accent of its own, though some say it’s more of an Eastern Shore thing that stretches into Delaware. You hear it most, or maybe at all, when someone says “Warshington.” But the creators of Max Headroom took notice of what I didn’t think existed: The actor who played the 1980s “computer-generated” cult-hit character was, according to an article, chosen for his ” ‘ideally exportable’ Mid-Atlantic accent.” (He sounds perfectly normal to me, but that’s to be expected ….)

Richmond, though. The first night of college, I was completely thrown upon finding a group of Richmond girls down the hall and literally not understanding a word they said. How was that possible? Of course, my first lesson in the clash of civilizations had come that afternoon when a gal across the hall, Margie from Mississippi, had popped in as I was unpacking. “Ellen,” she’d said, “kin Ah borrow a pin?”

“Sure,” I’d said, producing one from my sewing kit.

Margie gave a long look at the pin, then at me. “Ellen,” she said, “Ah kin’t wrate with this.”

(That’s when I learned the concept of the “ink pen,” which I found redundant. What other kind was there? But if you were pronouncing it “pin,” I guess you had to distinguish it from the kind found in sewing kits.)

Then there was the first day of chorus, when Lynne, after we exchanged pleasantries, promptly said, “So, what part of New York are you from?”

No one says that anymore, thank goodness, unless certain words come up: chawclit, awffice, dawg. Most of us who arrive fairly young lose our regional accents in the Great Melting Pot that is metropolitan Washington, DC. Maybe that’s why I swooned the instant Dennis opened his mouth. His accent is tempered by decades away, but hearing “Fuggedaboudit” in that baritone would still turn many a Lower Manhattan accountant pale.

As much as I found his New Yawkisms adorable, he found my adopted Southernisms baffling. Especially “y’all.” Why do you say that? he asked me once. Sorry, that one’s ingrained, I told him. It’s so useful that I can’t see ever not using it. The rest of the country depends on “you” for both singular and plural address, which leads to confusion; we often have to explain the context. The French avoid this by using “tu” and “vous.” They switch between them for singular address depending on the context, which can also get awkward — what if I think of you as “tu” while you think of me as “vous”? — but at least there are no “I don’t mean you; I mean everybody” explanations.

Many Southerners, at least in speech, have gotten around this: In mild form, “you” is singular and “y’all” is plural. In not-so-mild form, “y’all” is singular and “all y’all” is plural. All y’all? Now, I think that sounds silly, but I’m a long way from the Deep South. Those who use “y’all” for both singular and plural run into the same problem the rest of us have with “you.” So of course they make up something extra for the plural.

These days I think I’d understand those Richmond girls much better, even if I didn’t catch every word. But there are a few voices I find at least as disconcerting. Funny thing is, they tend to be Yankee voices. Franklin Roosevelt, the aristocrat: “The only thing we have to feah is — feah itself.” There’s not only the patrician inflection but the tenor of the words. He sounds like a lot of Hollywood actors from the same period. Did people really speak like that, or were they just directed that way? John F. Kennedy, the Boston Brahmin: “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things not because they are easy but because they are hod.”

“Because they are hod”? What? In the 1970s, people sure made fun of a candidate turned president who called himself Jimmeh Cahtah. I wasn’t here for the 1960 campaign — did they make as much fun of JFK? Did they ask one another, “What did he say?” I’ve never heard that, but it crosses my mind every time I hear a recording of his voice.

One of the many things JFK is famous for saying is that Washington is a city of Southern efficiency and Northern charm. Less so now, but he’d still recognize the place. Something similar could be said for the hybrid voices and vocabulary of its non-native inhabitants. A few years back, I met the mail carrier at the door and heard myself say this: “Hah thayer!” Where did that come from? Must have been the ghost of Margie from Mississippi, taking revenge for having heard me tawk once too awften about chawclit or dawgs.

Addendum, June 2013. Just came across the coolest set of maps I’ve ever seen: “22 Maps That Show How Americans Speak English Totally Differently From Each Other.” Joshua Katz, the NC State doctoral student who put them together, calls the y’all-versus-you-guys thing “the deepest and most obvious linguistic divide in America,” but the map that made my jaw drop is the one about pajamas. (He’s never heard of a Brew Thru? Must not have been in North Carolina long.)

Copyright 2012 Ellen M. Ryan. All rights reserved.