What can be worse than watching the Dallas Cowboys win? Watching Bob Costas ramble during half-time of a football game, only to realize upon his concluding remarks that he has essentially said nothing. While it’s nice to see that Mr. Costas has graduated from haranguing viewers about gun control during a football game to actually covering a topic related to the sport, he still has a problem with talking in circles.
Bob Costas put his serious face on during halftime of the Redskin/Cowboys match-up on Sunday, took a deep breath, hoped no one noticed the bad dye job his hairstylist gave him, and said the following:
There is no reason to believe that owner Daniel Snider or any official or player from his team harbors animus towards Native Americans or wishes to disrespect them. This is undoubtedly also true of the vast majority of those that don’t think twice about the long-standing moniker. And, in fact, as best can be determined, even a majority of Native Americans say they are not offended.
But, having stipulated that, there’s still a distinction to be made. Objections to names like Braves, Chiefs, Warriors and the like strike many of us as political correctness run amok. These names honor, rather than demean. They’re pretty much the same as Vikings, Patriots or even Cowboys. And names like Blackhawks, Seminoles and Chippewas — while potentially more problematic — can still be okay, provided the symbols are appropriately respectful, which is where the Cleveland Indians (with the combination of their name and Chief Wahoo logo) have sometimes run into trouble.
A number of teams, mostly in the college ranks, have changed their names in response to objections. The Stanford Cardinal and the Dartmouth Big Green were each once the Indians. The Saint Johns ‘Redmen’ have become the Red Storm. And the Miami of Ohio ‘Redskins’ — that’s right, redskins — are now the Red Hawks. Still, the NFL franchise that represents the nation’s capital, has maintained its name.
But think for a moment about the term ‘Redskins’ and how it truly differs from all the others. Ask yourself what the equivalent would be if directed towards African Americans, Hispanics, Asians or members of any other ethnic group. When considered that way, Redskins can’t possibly honor a heritage or a noble character trait. Nor can it possibly be considered a neutral term. It’s an insult, a slur, no matter how benign the present day intend. It’s fair to say for a long time now, and certainly in 2013, no offense has been intended. But if you take a step back, isn’t it clear to see how offense might legitimately be taken?
For more on this topic, including Daniel Snyder’s take, you can go to nbcsport.com/nickname.
Does Bob Costas realize that history is filled with terms that were once insults that have been re-appropriated by the targets of disdain? “Yankees” comes to mind, although I suppose in certain parts of the country ‘Yankee’ is still a slur… Black people have done the same, most notably by turning ‘nigger’ into ‘nigga.’ Turn on MTV or BET and see how many times the word is used over the course of 24 hours. If you still count on your fingers and toes you’ll need to borrow a few relatives to keep track.
These sorts of things cause many headaches among politically correct guys like Mr. Costas, but the point remains: words are like vases that are always filled with the meaning we give them. Over time, the meaning of words change (e.g., ‘literally’ no long means literally, which is actually rather sad), and some words disappear all together. If the majority of Native Americans don’t have an issue with the Redskins name, and fans of the team are singing “Hail to the Redskins,” then why should the owner do away with it over the howls of (overwhelmingly) politically correct white people?
Regardless, Dan Snyder weighed in on the issue in a letter he wrote to the fans. Here’s an excerpt:
Our past isn’t just where we came from — it’s who we are.
As some of you may know, our began team 81 years ago — in 1932 — with the name “Boston Braves.” The following year, the franchise name was changed to the “Boston Redskins.” On our inaugural team, four players and our Head Coach were Native Americans. The name was never a label. It was, and continues to be, a badge of honor.
In 1971, or legendary head coach, the late George Allen, consulted with the Red Cloud Athletic Fund, located on the Pine Ridge Indians Reservation in South Dakota and designed our emblems on the Redskins helmets. Several years later, Coach Allen was honored by the Red Cloud Athletic Fund. On the wall of our Ashburn, Virginia, offices is the plaque given to Coach Allen — a source of pride for all of us. “Washington Redskins” is more than a name we have called ourselves for over eight decades. It is a symbol of everything we stand for: strength, courage pride and respect — the same values we know guide Native Americans and which are embedded throughout their rich history as the original Americans.
Consider the facts concerning the “Washington Redskins” name:
The highly respected Annenberg Public Policy Center polled nearly 1,000 self-identified Native Americans from across the continental U.S. and found that 90% of Native Americans did not find the team name “Washington Redskins” to be offensive.
In April 2013, Associated Press survey, 70% of respondents stated the Washington Redskins should not change their name, while only 11% said the team name should change.
Read the entire letter. It’s worth it. And, unlike Bob Costas, Dan Snyder takes a firm position that can be held up to scrutiny. Particularly interesting is the response by a retired Chief of Virginia’s Patowomeck Tribe, who says:
“Frankly, the members of my tribe — the vast majority — don’t find it offensive. I’ve been a Redskins fan for years. And to be honest with you, I would be offended if they did change [the name, Redskins … This is] an attempt by somebody … to completely remove the Indian identity from anything and pretty soon … you have a wipe out in society of any reference to Indian people… You can’t rewrite history — yes, there were some awful bad things to our people over time, but naming the Washington football team the Redskins, we don’t consider to be one of those bad things,” (Robert Green).
The Redskins name controversy will continue to go on, and there is no easy answer. I have mixed feelings on the subject. However, hearing this commentary makes me more confident than ever that it’s a matter that should be settled between Redskins ownership and the fans — free from the halftime temper tantrums of men like Costas.