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Sports nicknames: Tradition needs to end

Tradition is a great thing to have, but when that it crosses the line like it does with the Washington Redskins' nickname, it's time to start anew.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell Flickr user: CAP News

We just celebrated the one day in which the relentless hectoring of government of, by and for the people can be suspended. It was America's birthday, fercripesakes. Stop yelling.

So moved was I by the celebration of the fruited plain this past Thursday that I will mark the occasion by giving unabashed, unsolicited credit to a government worker.

I do not know Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.), but she said something last month in Congress that was so honest and righteous about a sports issue that is worthy of hailing. It was a tad less eloquent than the Gettysburg Address 150 years earlier, but hey, this is sports. At minimum she nobly advanced a bit of President Lincoln's national notion about all being created equal.

She was responding to a June 5 letter sent by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to Congress in which he defended the continuing use of of the Redskins nickname by team owner Dan Snyder despite the request by 10 members of Congress that he knock it off because it is racist, insulting and breathtakingly stupid.

“The Washington Redskins name has from its origin represented a positive meaning distinct from any disparagement that could be viewed in some other context,” Goodell wrote. “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.”

I don't know whether McCollum first slapped her forehead or stuck a finger down her throat, but she eventually found a microphone.

"For the head of a multi-billion dollar sports league to embrace the twisted logic that ‘Redskin’ actually ‘stands for strength, courage, pride, and respect’ is a statement of absurdity,” said McCollum, co-chair of the Congressional Native American Caucus. "Would Roger Goodell and Dan Snyder actually travel to a Native American community and greet a group of tribal leaders by saying, ‘Hey, what’s up, redskin?’”

The issue of using a slur for a sports nickname has been condemned and defended for decades, but never has the foolishness been offered in a virtual theater format with protagonist and antagonist addressing each other directly. Bravo, Rep. McCollum. I could not let such plain truth be consigned to the dustbin of history marked "little noted nor long remembered."

Far as I know, Goodell and Snyder have not answered the question, and probably will vacation on a moon of Saturn before they get anywhere near a direct answer. Snyder is, however, on record telling USA Today on May 9 that "the Redskins will never change the name. It’s that simple. NEVER. You can put that in capital letters."

Nothing new there. Snyder and all of his franchise predecessors, going back to the nickname's origins in 1933, have dismissed the argument as nonsense or political correctness that is no match for sacred tradition. And every poll of fans/residents shows a vast majority disinclined to do anything about it.

There's a real surprise — inertia.

A large segment of American society was once in favor of slavery, a tradition that went back about 200 years and helped build the empire. Then America thought better of it. So it's not exactly unprecedented for American traditions to come to a richly deserved end.

Regarding polls, a majority view does not make a thing right. When the U.S. Supreme Court makes a decision, it doesn't mean the court is right, merely that its decision is the law of the land. Even a majority of Native Americans who say they are unbothered by a slur doesn't make it acceptable for those who are offended.

Sacred tradition aside, what we're really talking about here is cost. Any sports team who changes nicknames will be out some coin. For a while.

“Any time you try to reinvent yourself or improve yourself or cater to the needs of some, you run the risk of ending up as new Coke,” David Carter, the executive director of the Sports Business Institute at the University of Southern California, told The New York Times. “You’re talking about a wholesale change of a global brand, and that’s pretty substantial. It really depends on how the new name is embraced. If they took something that people could rally around, then there might be tremendous upside.”


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Comments:

Posted Wed, Jul 10, 5:45 a.m. Inappropriate

I'm much more afraid of the Demon Deacon then any Redskins.

Djinn

Posted Wed, Jul 10, 9:36 a.m. Inappropriate

No, and if I went to Shelton I wouldn't greet the first person I saw with "hi, how you doin logger?" it's sad to see Mr. Theil accepting the strange and convoluted political correctness that find fault in something as trite and meaningless as mascot names. "Vikings" are gone, soon "Wildcats" will be found offensive by those who thrive on being offended. There will be no end to it. Bravo Mr. Goodell.

kieth

Posted Wed, Jul 10, 11:18 a.m. Inappropriate

Perhaps they could change the name to the Palefaces. There are a lot more Anglos than Indians in DC anyway.

dbreneman

Posted Wed, Jul 10, 2:28 p.m. Inappropriate

"Palefaces", "Ofays", "Whiteys", "Showbox Wrestlers", anything at all that takes this argument out of the realm of sociology. I would guess that when "Redskins" or "Cubs" were selected as mascots it was regarded as less than totally serious. It should be that way again.

kieth

Posted Thu, Jul 11, 10:13 a.m. Inappropriate

I agree with you kieth.

So the Chicago Blackhawks, who just won the Stanley Cup, should change to.... what exactly?

Perhaps they could keep the name and just change the logo to a black bird of prey.
That would actually be a slight to the native americans for whom the team was named in my opinion.

jeffro

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