Redskins term just keeps piling on insult

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Washington, D.C., has an endless supply of stupidity and truculence these days. Even with a government shutdown and the threat of default looming, we're in no danger of running out of bad faith and intellectual dishonesty.

One would think that even in these ideologically polarized times, there would be a tendency on the part of combatants to identify those areas where some agreement is possible and plant a flag of comity there.

Nothing brings people who would otherwise hate each other together better than cheering for the "home" team and its transplanted roster of millionaire players.

Every team has millions of fans spanning the political spectrum. These fans are united in their contempt for everything outside a very narrow set of tribal boundaries. This myopia is considered healthy and not to be politicized under any circumstance. The normal courtesies are checked at the door of the stadium for the sake of fan cohesion.

Both liberals and conservatives are proud members of the 79 percent of Americans who believe the Washington Redskins shouldn't change their name out of some misplaced sense of "political correctness."

Redskins fans are united in arguing that a nickname coined eight decades ago during the heyday of lynch mobs and a century after the infamous Trail of Tears has no racial overtones.

If anything, naming the franchise after a people who were driven close to extinction by savage acts of brutality by the federal government is a way of "honoring" the Native Americans' fierce legacy of being crushed by overwhelming odds. Sure, this makes all the sense in the world if you're a psychopath.

People who would come to blows over the symbolism of the Confederate flag in another context will join arms and walk in lockstep to defend the good name of the Washington Redskins from "haters" in the media like myself.

Of course, none of these people would ever dream of approaching a group of actual Native Americans to test the theory that "redskins" has been drained of its offensiveness by the franchise's 81 years of institutional indifference. Even diehard fans realize that addressing someone using a racial slur like redskin would be an appalling breach of etiquette.

In a recent letter to season ticket holders, Dan Snyder, the 47-year-old billionaire owner of the Washington Redskins, explained why the team wouldn't be changing its name anytime soon.

Instead of marshaling anything resembling an intellectual argument, Mr. Snyder penned a sentimental piece that evoked an afternoon in 1972 when the 6-year-old version of himself spent his first afternoon with his father at RFK Stadium cheering the team he would own one day.

"The tradition -- the song, the cheer -- it mattered so much to me as a child, and I know it matters to every other Redskin fan in the D.C. area and across the nation," Mr. Snyder wrote.

"We'll never change the name. It's that simple. NEVER," he told USA Today in May. He insisted that the paper capitalize never.

I suppose we should be grateful that there is no Washington Redskins equivalent of Al Jolson who gets down on one knee to sing "My Mammy" with every touchdown, or we would be stuck with that abomination, too.

The gist of Mr. Snyder's defense of the continued use of a name that even he wouldn't use in mixed company is that it has been ratified by time and eight decades of tradition. By his logic, the best time to have rejected the name would have been when America was officially a racist nation 81 years ago -- not now when we've evolved in our understanding of what constitutes an insult to an entire people.

Now, we're supposed to believe we're stuck with the old name because football fans in the D.C. area are too lazy, morally oblivious and sentimental to adjust to something less derogatory. It did not help that President Barack Obama recently opined that if he were the owner of the Redskins, he would think seriously about changing the name. That stiffened the spine of those who embrace Lost Causes laced with gauzy smatterings of racism.

Imagine NFL franchises with names like the Seattle Sambos, the Carolina Kikes and the Milwaukee Wops. You can't? Well, the name Washington Redskins should be inscribed on that list, too.

tonynorman

Tony Norman: tnorman@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1631 or on Twitter @TonyNormanPG. First Published October 14, 2013 8:00 PM


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