Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Washington Redskins???

Last Friday, in a judicial decision that hinged on a legal technicality, the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., upheld the right of the local pro football team to keep its unconscionable nickname.

Gloated team attorney Bob Raskopf, “It’s a great day for the Redskins and their fans and their owner, Dan Snyder.”

Alas, it was another shameful day for America.

In clinging to the most racially offensive moniker held by a major U.S. professional sports team since the Emancipation Proclamation – yes, I know, since forever – the franchise continues to offend some Native Americans and assault the sensibilities of a citizenry that should be long past such insensitive and shallow depictions.

How can a large majority of us not be offended? Imagine trying to explain “Redskins” to a foreign visitor or a time-traveler from the future? Every time I say the word, I throw up in my mouth a little and wonder why there is no widespread outrage.

I’ve heard all the arguments about why this name should be allowed to exist, and they move me about as much as Jim Zorn’s red-zone offense in a tight game against a strong opponent. (Sorry – I realize that was a cheap shot. Besides, I wouldn’t want to get ‘Skins fans ticked off at me or anything.)

You can spare me the protestations about how the name is actually a tribute to Native Americans, or how other allegedly similar groups (Vikings? Really?) are also consigned to mascot status. You can skip the talk about the importance of the team name to its fans or the tradition that would be compromised were it to be changed.

I’m not hearing it, because if I close my eyes and think about where we are as a society and the fact that this name still exists, it’s a complete travesty on both visceral and logical levels.

Would we “honor,” say, Chicago’s African-American population by calling its NFL team the Brownskins?

If the NBA placed a franchise in Hawaii, would it consider paying homage to the islands’ Asian influences by competing as the Yellowskins?

And while I’m sure we could all come up with some Jewish slurs to continue the analogy, I submit that an anti-Semitic major league owner like Marge Schott might’ve been quite comfortable fielding a team known as the Foreskins.

Ridiculous? Absolutely. And Redskin is just as absurd, whether you’ve been conditioned to regard it as normal or not.

Worse, it’s blatantly offensive, and don’t bother trotting out the examples of certain Native Americans who regard it as a sign of great respect. The fact that even a handful of them were upset enough to sue to stop the name from existing, a legal fight that has gone on for 17 years and counting, should be enough to let decency prevail. And if you’re angrily composing an email telling me how the name’s meaning to you and your fellow fans supersedes the desires of these people not to be publicly lampooned, I’m going to bet my last Abe Lincoln note that you’re not a member of a traditionally oppressed minority group.

If changing the name of the established team in the nation’s capital seems so unthinkable, you might be forgetting about the Washington Wizards, who from 1963-1997 were known as the Bullets. Two years earlier owner Abe Pollin had announced that, because he had grown uncomfortable with the nickname’s violent overtones, the NBA franchise would be rechristened, and a fan contest ensued.

So the Bullets became the Wizards, and guess what? The sun came up the next morning, the rivers continued to flow to the oceans, and Calbert Cheaney kept getting beat off the dribble. (OK, that was a cheap shot, too. Just making sure you’re still paying attention.)

Things change. Societies evolve. The improbable becomes reality. Remember, there’s a family that recently moved to a D.C. residence at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, and its presence there made a statement to the world about how far our country has come in terms of racial enlightenment.

Since the words “President” and “Obama” became Siamese twins (oops, another outdated term), it has never been so tough to make the argument that in the United States, a person’s skin color is a primary means by which he/she is judged.

Unless, of course, you’re part of that minuscule slice of the population that pays attention to pro football. Those of us, like our current commander in chief, who fall into that category need to think long and hard about our tolerance for such a preposterously backward name in such a conspicuous setting.

The Redskins may have had their day in court and prevailed, at least for the time being. It’s my sincere hope that before too long, the court of public opinion is far less forgiving.

No comments: