The real offensiveness of the ‘Redskins’ debate

by Isaiah Webster III

WASHINGTON — It seems that everyone is up in a lather over the Washington Redskins. President Obama has had his say. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has chimed in. Even the great and powerful Bob Costas has rendered his thoughts about the Redskins.

Naturally, since the team is 1-4 and regressing by the week, this chatter has little to do with actual football. Instead, everyone is busy telling the Redskins that they should change their nickname to something less “offensive.”

Even though the Redskins are the most profitable franchise in all of sports, and even though they’ve been called the Redskins forever — the political correctness police have concluded that their nickname is too offensive to continue being used. Several polls indicate that more than 90% of Native Americans are not offended by the name, and aren’t all that interested in seeing it changed. This is part of the rationale team owner Daniel Synder made to fans, when he reiterated in an open letter that he has no intention of changing the name of the team.

There are plenty of reasons why this entire episode is ridiculous, but for the sake of brevity, I’ll discuss just two of them.

First, changing the name of the Redskins football team doesn’t actually improve or enhance the lives of Native Americans. With all the talking heads so suddenly concerned about offending Native Americans, it would be refreshing if their crusade actually led to better lives for these people. That would be a case I could get behind. But changing the name of some sports team is a symbolic gesture that is truly trivial. It’s truly trivial because no one can make the case that Native Americans are damaged, discriminated against or otherwise disenfranchised because of the nickname “Redskins.” And if we actually wanted to make life better for Native Americans, we should try advancing public policies that might actually increase their standing in society.

Secondly, it really only matters what Redskins fans think. I’ve heard countless people say that Native Americans should have the final say on whether this nickname is used or not. Wrong. The fans of the Washington Redskins should have final say on what their  team is called, because they are the ones buying the tickets, concessions and merchandise to keep the club in existence. Why should a bunch of people — who don’t even watch football — decide what a football team will be called? That’s complete foolishness. And it’s the aspect of this entire debate that bugs me the most.

Fans of sports teams often have deep allegiances to their clubs. Allegiances that only they fully comprehend and appreciate. And these fans are sophisticated enough to decide if a nickname is consistent with its community norms and standards. As a 49ers fan, I can’t think of anything more offensive than a non Niners fan telling us what we should call our team. Go fuck yourself! It’s our team. We live, eat and breath it, and we can decide for ourselves what to call it.

Fans of the Redskins can decide what their team will be called. People who can’t support that viewpoint are free to not support the Washington Redskins. And people like Barack Obama, Roger Goodell and Bob Costas should just butt out. Seriously.