By Jason Keidel
Despite the disadvantages of my childhood – the elitist, Upper West Side sensibilities, the private school, tie-dyed lifestyle, the smoking rooms for 8th graders, the antiwar and nuclear disarmament protests, calling teachers by first names, and the rest of the ’60s residue – I still somehow emerged without an ounce of political correctness…
So when I first heard the cacophonous call for Daniel Snyder to change the name of his football team, I cringed. It felt like the sport we worshiped since childhood was under siege, crushed by the tide of groupthink.
The idea that after 80 years, the Washington Redskins, one of football’s flagship franchises, needs to rip the label off their 80-year history, was repugnant to me. It felt like the typical, template debate spawned by those who wouldn’t know a gridiron from a 9 iron.
Until I gave it a little more meditation.
Despite our new-world sensitivities and sensibilities, where we can’t call anyone anything without fearing some fringe clique bum-rushing our front lawn – led by the ACLU, of course – it’s impossible to defend a team whose handle speaks solely to a group’s skin color.
You don’t need the vulgar analogies, what the black, Hispanic, Asian, or Arabic equivalent would sound like. Suffice it to say that if a more prominent minority were branded similarly, the team would be contracted. Sadly, the Redskins exist because we gauge crime by numbers. There just aren’t enough Native Americans as a group to have gravitas.
No matter my proximity to the ghetto – I was raised 20 yards from the Frederick Douglass projects – I can’t possibly relate to the subtle yet savage blanket of bigotry that coated our country for decades, if not centuries.
No matter that most of my friends were people of color, as a white male I am only capable of sympathy, not empathy. But even the most coddled among us must guard against sweeping reform just because we can’t relate to a certain struggle.
I was wed to the popular logic, that the team’s moniker was fine for eight decades, yet it’s suddenly savage in 2013. Where was Peter King ten years ago? Where was Barack Obama five years ago? It felt so convenient to get regional religion now, when each talking head can hide behind the next. Straight out of Orwell.
I also dig what I call the “penny tax” principle. The first, facile taxation morphed into this monstrous apparatus called the IRS, which, in my opinion, is a homegrown terrorist group in its own right. Hence we worry that if you change the avatar of the Redskins, it will inspire the PC Police to barnstorm around America, handpicking teams and titles until they’ve torched the entire sporting landscape. At some point it becomes about the crusade, not the justice.
But in truth all cultural sea changes take time. If you read the real history of this nation, or any nation, mankind has a glacial approach to proper, cultural axioms. From civil rights to women’s rights, we wade through the ancient, archaic approach to our fellow man, entirely unaware of our place in oppression until too many of the oppressed have been crippled beyond repair.
A team’s logo isn’t on that scale, of course. But we know that symbolism matters. Gods are worshiped on it. Wars are waged on it. Nations are built on it. So the simple matter of a brand ripples out through society. If we abide by the rules simply because they are the rules, we wouldn’t exist.
Locally, we had a similar situation. Pat Riley pulled the plug on the Knicks’ annual training camp in South Carolina because the state flag included the Confederate flag. Frankly, none of us noticed it until someone pointed it out. Riley, who has the respect of all races, did the right thing by moving the team’s workout northward.
Sure, the Confederate flag represents more than the Civil War, Jim Crow, or segregation at large. But even peripherally, it does represent many of those things to many people, and that is unacceptable.
And thus the seemingly innocuous name like Redskins, which to many of us is the emblem of Joe Theisman and Joe Gibbs and the Hogs and, ironically, Doug Williams, is overtly offensive. Not only to the team or the league or the sport, but to our society.
No matter how delicate the issue, and somehow walking the tightrope between what’s prudent and what’s perilous, there’s no way to defend the Washington Redskins as a name or a game. Because it’s not funny. It’s just offensive.
Even once Snyder changes the Redskins to a more palatable nickname, it will feel odd. But that’s a lot better than feeling old.
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