The Washington Redskins organization is currently in shambles. The team is off to a mediocre start with a 1-4 record. More importantly the team has come under fire for reasons other than their poor play.
A segment of the Native American population is applying public pressure on Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder to change the name of the team. Native Americans feel the name is racist and the time has come to do what they consider is the right thing and change it.
As an African-American I understand why Native Americans feel as they do. As a human being, a male and a journalist I've been subjected to racism in its purest form. I've been called the N-Word and many of its derivatives. If one understands the historical development of this country "Redskin" isn't a very endearing term.
In May Snyder issued the following to the USA Today when asked if he would change the name. Snyder said, "We'll never change the name. It's that simple. NEVER-you can use caps."
In a letter to Congress in June NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell stated, "The Washington Redskins name has thus from its origin represented a positive meaning distinct from any disparagement that could be viewed in some other context. 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."
Since the backlash Goodell received he's watered down his stance. What would you expect from a guy who essentially works for the owners anyway?
Recently President Barack Obama stated, "I don't know whether our attachment to a particular name should override the real legitimate concerns that people have about these things."
Days ago NBC's Bob Costas said, "Ask yourself what the equivalent would be if directed towards African-Americans, Hispanics or Asians or any other ethnic group. When considered that way, 'Redskins' can't possibly honor a heritage or 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 intent."
One of the perks of capitalism is to have the ability to name your entity what you wish or carry on a pre-existing one. The ability to name and anoint signifies power and jurisdictional control over that which is named. In short, if one pays their money for a franchise inherent in its acquisition is the ability to name.
Once one objectively scours through the defiant nature of Snyder's words I can understand his logic in protecting what's rightfully his. But as I continue to scour I find this matter isn't purely about logic or capitalism. It's about showing sensitivity to a group who deserve to have their feelings acknowledged and their voices heard.
Let's have brief history lesson to shed light on this matter.
In 1961 George Preston Marshall was the majority owner of the Washington Redskins. Marshall was nothing short of a defiant bigot whose personal ideals reflected the racial climate of the times.
Ernie Davis was the first African-American to win the Heisman Trophy in 1961. Davis was one of the greatest college running backs of all-time who broke many of the great Jim Brown's records at Syracuse University.
History would have it the Redskins had the No. 1 pick. Marshall made his feelings very clear that he was not going to draft Davis because he wanted an all-white club. Marshall once said, "We'll start signing Negroes when the Harlem Globetrotters start signing whites."
President John F. Kennedy stepped in and urged Marshall to weaken his stance or be subjected to governmental intervention. Marshall was notified if he didn't draft an African-American player his lease to play at RFK Memorial Stadium would be revoked. Invariably Marshall drafted Davis but he was promptly traded to the Cleveland Browns for now Hall of Famer Bobby Mitchell.
It's extremely plausible to assert had it not been for Kennedy stepping in and threatening Marshall's economic bottom line his team would have remained an all-white club for at least a bit longer.
Jack Kent Cooke became majority owner in 1969 when Marshall died. He was faced with a similar scenario in changing the name of the team as Snyder. Kent Cooke refused to change the name. The late owner said, "I admire the Redskins name. I think it stands for bravery, courage, and a stalwart spirit and I see no reason why we shouldn't continue to use it."
Will Snyder back down and change the franchise's name?
Even though Snyder is displaying a level of defiant behavior like his capitalist predecessors ultimately, I believe he will change the name but he will be forced to do so. There simply has to be enough pressure placed on his economic bottom line. Precedents in both society and sport validate the latter to be plausible.
A Civil War was fought between the North and the South resulting in American slavery being abolished, but the institution didn't cease in the name of morality. It ceased for economic reasons. A careful examination of history shows Abraham Lincoln's paramount concern was preserving the union, not outlawing slavery.
Jackie Robinson integrated Major League Baseball in 1947. African-Americans were forced to form a league of their own because they were not welcomed to play ball amongst whites in a sport referred to as "Americas Favorite Pastime." While it's true Robinson was an African-American pioneer, what's equally true is Major League Baseball saw an opportunity to expand its economic base by allowing African-Americans entry. The latter aided in systematically dismantling a very profitable Negro Leagues.
During the height of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960's African-Americans were seeking first-class citizenship from both a rhetorical a legal standpoint. African-Americans along with a segment of white America banned together to create legislation that had teeth to smash segregation. Ultimately African-Americans accrued rights but it wasn't done in the name of morality. It was done for economic reasons by way of integration.
How can a franchise that has a Robert Griffin III as the face of its franchise in a city where an African-American sits in the White House as president where quarterback Doug Williams made history in 1988 cling to a name that's obviously a slur?
In closing, while race certainly plays a factor in the Washington Redskins situation, economics will settle it. Change will ultimately manifest in the name of the all-mighty dollar, not out of Snyder's willingness to do the right thing.
Dexter Rogers is a freelance Sports Journalist and Filmmaker. Email him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @DextersVPoint. For media inquiries Email: Mediarequests.Rogers@gmail.com
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