BY Art Thiel 08:00AM 07/04/2013

Thiel: NFL could give birthday present to America

Minnesota rep calls out Goodell and Snyder on Redskins’ nickname: “Would they greet a group of tribal leaders by saying, ‘Hey, what’s up, redskins?’”

Pity the poor Redskins — they grossed only $373 million last season, hardly enough to pay for a decent playing surface that might have kept Robert Griffin III a little healthier. / Drew McKenzie, Sportspress Northwest

Today is the one day in which the relentless hectoring of government of, by, and for the people can be suspended. It’s America’s birthday, fercripesakes. Stop yelling.

So moved am I by the celebration of the fruited plain today that I will mark the occasion by giving unabashed, unsolicited credit to a government worker.

I do not know Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.), but she said something last month in Congress that was so honest and righteous about a sports issue that is worthy of hailing. It was a tad less eloquent than the Gettysburg Address 150 years earlier, but hey, this is sports. At minimum she nobly advanced a bit of President Lincoln’s national notion about all being created equal.

She was responding to a June 5 letter sent by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to Congress in which he defended the continuing use of of the Redskins nickname by team owner Dan Snyder despite the request by 10 members of Congress that he knock it off because it is racist, insulting and breathtakingly stupid.

“The Washington Redskins name has from its origin represented a positive meaning distinct from any disparagement that could be viewed in some other context,” Goodell wrote. “For the team’s millions of fans and customers, who represent one of America’s most ethnically and geographically diverse fan bases, the name is a unifying force that stands for strength, courage, pride and respect.”

I don’t know whether McCollum first slapped her forehead or stuck a finger down her throat, but she eventually found a microphone.

“For the head of a multi-billion dollar sports league to embrace the twisted logic that ‘Redskin’ actually ‘stands for strength, courage, pride, and respect’ is a statement of absurdity,” said McCollum, co-chair of the Congressional Native American Caucus. “Would Roger Goodell and Dan Snyder actually travel to a Native American community and greet a group of tribal leaders by saying, ‘Hey, what’s up, redskin?’”

The issue of using a slur for a sports nickname has been condemned and defended for decades, but never has the foolishness been offered in a virtual theater format with protagonist and antagonist addressing each other directly. Bravo, Rep. McCollum. I could not let such plain truth be consigned to the dustbin of history marked “little noted nor long remembered.”

Far as I know, Goodell and Snyder have not answered the question, and probably will vacation on a moon of Saturn before they get anywhere near a direct answer. Snyder is, however, on record telling USA Today May 9 that “the Redskins will never change the name. It’s that simple. NEVER. You can put that in capital letters.”

Nothing new there. Snyder and all of his franchise predecessors, going back to the nickname’s origins in 1933, have dismissed the argument as nonsense or political correctness that is no match for sacred tradition. And every poll of fans/residents shows a vast majority disinclined to do anything about it.

There’s a real surprise — inertia.

A large segment of American society was once in favor of slavery, a tradition that went back about 200 years and helped build the empire. Then America thought better of it. So it’s not exactly unprecedented for American traditions to come to a richly deserved end.

Regarding polls, a majority view does not make a thing right. When the U.S. Supreme Court makes a decision, it doesn’t mean the court is right, merely that its decision is the law of the land. Even a majority of Native Americans who say they are unbothered by a slur doesn’t make it acceptable for those who are offended.

Sacred tradition aside, what we’re really talking about here is cost. Any sports team who changes nicknames will be out some coin. For a while.

“Any time you try to reinvent yourself or improve yourself or cater to the needs of some, you run the risk of ending up as new Coke,” David Carter, the executive director of the Sports Business Institute at the University of Southern California,.told the New York Times.  “You’re talking about a wholesale change of a global brand, and that’s pretty substantial. It really depends on how the new name is embraced. If they took something that people could rally around, then there might be tremendous upside.”

There is always an upside whenever teams changes uniforms, colors or nicknames. It’s done to sell new trinkets to a fan base of ready-made, renegade consumerists eager to consign anything made the day before Sunday to “old school.” Nothing lost temporarily cannot be gained back, and more. Snyder can ask his NBA neighbors, the Wizards. They used to be the Bullets until someone in crime-riddled Washington thought maybe that was a bad idea too.

As the Times pointed out, the Redskins grossed $373 million last season, which ended with a playoff loss to the Seahawks. The biggest expense, player payroll, was capped at $123 million. So the expense of re-branding is unlikely to break the bank, at least no more than it would cost to properly sod the home stadium so that players such as quarterback Robert Griffin III don’t get hurt.

After Goodell and Snyder greet actual redskins, maybe they can move on to explaining to the rest of the world what’s up with this “unifying force” symbol for the American capital city. Pu


YourThoughts

  • SandlotSam

    For a country that should be, and usually is, a shining beacon into the future, sometimes we need to be dragged kicking and screaming out of the darkness. Happy Independence Day! Go ‘Hawks!

    • art thiel

      The nation is little different than all of us as individuals. Sometimes doing the right thing for all of us takes work that we would prefer to avoid.

      I take a look at my to-do list, and the items at the bottom are always the toughest.

  • Tim

    Great commentary and happy 4th Art! Hopefully, this controversy will
    create a domino-effect that will spread to other cities leading to the
    end of “Chief Wahoo” (talk about racist), the Braves and their racist
    “tomahawk” chop, etc.

    Then again, we’re asking Americans to deal
    with the superficial (yet no less valid) remnants of a genocide spanning
    two continents and seven centuries that makes the Nazi Holocaust pale
    in comparison. And no, I’m not Native American. I just know right from
    wrong.

    • art thiel

      Every people, every nation create mythologies about their highest aspirations. I get that. But progress is next to impossible unless the truth about the common history has a higher value.

      Goodell’s rationalization for the nickname is helping perpetuate a myth over a reality. The NFL and all major sports that condone the nickname are just slowing us down.

  • Will

    Art, good topic and excellent commentary. You’d think that after decades of complaints team management would’ve done a name change.

    Now back to the ridiculousness of the situation … how about a simple shortening of the name to … The Washington Reds. I don’t recall HUAC investigating the Cincinnati Reds.

    Or, if the team needs a sponsor – The Washington Skins, brought to you by a well-known condom company, might be a good fit. Just imagine the team’s mascot doing his schtick during time outs.

    • art thiel

      Fine sponsorship idea, Will. Although USC might claim copyright infringement.

    • Kirkland

      I think the Reds voluntarily switched their name to “Redlegs” in the 1950s to avoid association with America’s anti-USSR/Communist fervor of the HUAC time. When that toned down somewhat, they reverted to “Reds”.

  • PokeyPuffy

    Kind of related: I find the Seahawks use of first nation Salish tribal art in the hawk logo as a very tasteful and appropriate representation for our team. It really communicates a regional identity, there’s probably an interesting story behind who did this. It is a cool graphic and i hope they never change it.

    nice piece, great to not be seeing a depressing Mariner’s this or that on Sportspress.

    • art thiel

      Use of aboriginal art is a sign of respect and appreciation. Adoption of the language of racial domination is just stupid.

  • http://www.facebook.com/guilty.bystander Guilty Bystander

    “…the name is a unifying force that stands for strength, courage, pride and respect.”

    Makes perfect sense, since calling a native a “redskin” has always been done out of a sense of pride and respect. Sheesh. C’mon, Roger.

    At the other end of the spectrum, however, the high school team in Aniak, Alaska (population 501) is called the Halfbreeds. THAT name was voted on and approved by students of Aniak, who are overwhelmingly native. Their logo has a white pioneer crossing his rifle with a spear held by a native (think Minnesota Twins logo) to acknowledge that Causasians and Yup’iks have intermarried for generations. There’ve been calls from Juneau to change that name, but the locals have said “Forget it” in no uncertain terms. What to do when people supposed to be insulted by a name instead embrace it at their local high school? Tell them they have to “change for their own good?” Seems like the tribes have heard that one before.

    • Kirkland

      Sounds like Florida State, where the Seminole Tribe has no issue with the school’s name or use of the spear gesture, the Chief Osceola mascot, etc.

      • http://www.facebook.com/guilty.bystander Guilty Bystander

        It’s like the imbroglio (love that word…right up there with “fracas”) in Port Townsend over the high school teams being called the Redskins. To me, the people who should’ve decided whether that name lives or dies are tribal members who are registered voters living within the Port Townsend School District boundaries because if anyone has a right be be personally insulted by that name, it’s them.
        Instead, Port Townsend’s all-white school board acted unilaterally to ban it rather than allowing natives to make that decision independently. THAT’S what I have a problem with. Not that the natives had much to say about the treaties foisted on them back in the day either. Some things never change, apparently.

        • art thiel

          The Times did a story Friday on the issue, and quoted tribal members in the area as being offended. Didn’t say if the tribe polled their membership, but the leadership declared opposition to the name.

          The story said the nickname has divided the community for 30 years and the school board debated the change for a long time. It wasn’t sudden or imperial; the board decided after such a long time, it was ready to turn a page.

          The only reason cited by the nickname’s advocates was tradition. Not an insurmountable reason to me.

    • art thiel

      Correct me if I’m wrong, but the white Euro genocide did not extend to Arctic peoples. Western culture may have subverted the indigenous culture, but there was not a conquered-conqueror element in the Alaska-Canada region. Aniak and other settlements may have commingled without a hostile takeover.

      If the white and native populations are in agreement, they have a good argument. The NFL is a national sports empire whose conduct and values can influence adoption or rejection of ideas beyond the communities.

  • Al in Portland

    Maybe it’s also no surprise that Washington was the last NFL team to integrate … in 1962.

    • art thiel

      Probably no city in the U.S. is as polarized demographically as D.C. with its largely white power broker establishment and largely African American population.

  • tondolao

    Yes, Art, this enduring NFL indignity must be brought to an end along with yet another NFL tradition of insult and defamation right here at home.

    Why are the Seahawks allowed to remain unchecked in a flagrant, degrading, and abusive proceedure that continues season after season. This humiliating act not only flies in the face of their female fans and women in general but to all people regardless of gender. Why is theirto”12th Man” promotion allowed to continue?

    Just as the DC NFL team must change their nickname to a more appropriate one like say the “politicians” the Seahawks must cease their insulting gender bias by immediately doing away with the 12th Man and replacing it with the 12th Person.

    • art thiel

      Tondolao, next you’re going to chastise Lincoln for his Gettysburg reference that “all men are created equal.”

      • tondolao

        I am not about to chastise one of my favorite presidents and one of the greatest speeches supposedly written on the back of an envelope.

        However I still maintain the 12th Person is politically correct..

        I am just not convinced that the existing nickname of the Washington NFL team is offensive to Native Americans in general.

        When people want change they come to the capitol and demonstrate,, thousands ( millions) of them.

        I don’t recall that has there been any kind of significant , sustained, public demonstration at the mall in front of the Lincoln Memorial or at RFK Stadium or Progressive Field in Cleveland where Native Americans and others demanded the Redskin and Chief Wahoo nicknames be changed?

        By significant….75,000 would be small potatoes compared to the Million Man March….but hey…if 75 thou showed up in DC and say 25,000 demonstrated in Cleveland that would be enough to change my opinion and concur with you on this matter. I would think that with all the Native Americans and those who sympathize with them in this regard….plus factoring in that 1 in 6 Americans ancestry involves the Cherokee Nation …Art…that’s millions…then mustering 75,000 should have been a walk in the park.

        Adding to my suspicion that a great many Native Americans are not losing sleep over the allegedly offensive nickname was the comments of the former Chief of the Patawomeck Virginia Native America Tribe , Robert “Two Eagles” Green who said he and most members of his 1300 member tribe would be offended if they changed the nickname.

        I have a hunch that in the Native American community there are three levels of reaction to what you claim is offending to this group.

        There are those who are genuinely offended but are in the minority.
        The balance of Native Americans, at least 51% either could care less and, or, are lol about this whole thing.

        More than likely the Patawomeck Tribe is representative of of most Native Americans concerning the Redskin nickname.

        It would seem that the Redskin nickname issue is of a much bigger magnitude to the media and certain politicians than to most Native Americans.

    • Tim

      Yuk yuk yuk…aren’t you clever. You’re seriously equating this issue with political correctness? Let me know how it goes when you the next Native American you see a redskin.

      • Tim

        When you “call” the next Native American you see a redskin I should say…

  • Kirkland

    This brings up an interesting tangent. If/when the NHL comes, “Totems” would be a popular choice for the team’s name, after the minor league team of the 1950s-60s. But would that pass muster with the local Native Americans?