Thursday, October 10, 2013

It’s Time for NFL to Tackle Offensive Team Names

It’s time for the National Football League to tackle inappropriate team names; with the Washington Redskins being the most provocative.
Though most public opinion polls confirm only a small minority of Americans consider the name objectionable, the lingering matter warrants earnest deliberation from the NFL. The topic recently hurdled back into the spotlight after one high-profile opinion made headlines.
President Barack Obama, apparently with more on his mind than Mideast turmoil, the debt ceiling and the government shutdown, added his two cents to the lingering issue in an interview with the Associated Press, when he said he would “think about changing” the name if he owned the Washington team.
Washington logo some deem offensive
While the controversy has simmered since the mid-90s with court battles and passionate protests, it was revived several months ago when Washington opened its training camp. Moreover, last May, the nickname received intense criticism from ten members of Congress, who sent a letter to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, team owner Dan Snyder and every other league franchise, asking them to consider a name change.
Snyder continues to avow that while he owns the team, the name will never change. In a USA Today interview last spring, he defiantly said, “NEVER — and you can use caps.”
NFL executives and other team owners must unite to denounce Snyder’s myopic moral attitude to, with any luck, awaken his sense of American history. If anyone ever referred to the Jewish owner as a Heeb, Snyder would unquestionably admonish such an intolerant expression.
It was reported this week that NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said a meeting with New York’s Oneida Indian Nation was scheduled for next month, but could happen sooner.
So now it appears the NFL will take the issue more seriously than it has since Native Americans began objecting to sports team names, such as Braves, Chiefs, Indians, Blackhawks and Redskins, decades ago.
Incidentally, no less offensive than Redskins is the Cleveland Indians team’s logo — “Chief Wahoo” — that, to no avail, has been protested by Native Americans for decades for its blatantly offensive grinning, red-faced caricature. Perhaps equally distasteful and boorish is when Atlanta Braves fans do the mindless tomahawk chop — a recurring forearm movement that mimics the act of chopping while voicing a monotonous war chant. The gesture may seem harmless to those who are either indifferent or oblivious to its racist inference, but it is terribly offensive to Native Americans who deem it nothing more than mocking their culture.
The term redskins is as offensive to America’s indigenous population, as much as the slurs that are customarily uttered to insult Jews, African Americans, Latinos, Italians, Irish, Asians or Muslims.
Obama pointed out that mascots and team names, like Redskins, depict negative stereotypes that offend “a sizable group of people.” He also said that while fans get attached to these names, nostalgia is not a reason to keep them and “…should override the real legitimate concerns that people have about these things.”
MLB would certainly object to caps like the two on the left,
but have overlooked the one on the right for decades.
Team names were not initially chosen to deliberately disparage any ethnic group, nor are Washington fans purposely offending American Indians by supporting the name. Certainly, when the franchise changed its name from Braves to Redskins more than 70 years ago when it was based in Boston, the term was tolerable since the nation was decades away from ethnic balance. However, in today’s climate of social equality, Redskins is decidedly insensitive to the Native American population. Those who do not recognize the derision as a racial slur and subtle prejudice need a lesson in compassion and tolerance.
Football is American as apple pie, which is why this matter can no longer be ignored since it will not vanish like the population it disparages did throughout American history.
The National Football League must make every effort to change the name of the franchise based in the nation’s capital, not only to allay Native American objections, but to open the eyes of fans who never realized the oversight or who are to ignorant to realize that “Redskin” is offensive to the people to whom it refers. More to the point, the word Redskin isn’t and never will be a term of endearment.
The NFL would never sanction such negative team names, such as Rednecks, Honkeys or Crackers, therefore it must take steps to ban team names with undertones aimed at Native Americans. This is one issue when the league cannot take a knee or punt, hoping time will run out or the matter will fade away.
By and large, we are more enlightened today than in the last century, when racial slurs were more easily accepted by some or to those ignorant to the fact they were not complimentary. Subsequently, it would not only be appropriate — but altogether decent — for professional sports, followed thereafter by colleges and schools, to promptly deal with highly objectionable mascots, caricatures and names that mock and disrespect one particular ethnic group.