The Washington Redskins have opened the 2013 season with an abysmal 1-4 record. Amidst concern about quarterback Robert Griffin’s recovery from a knee injury suffered last season, a new and improved team must emerge in the coming weeks in order for the franchise to have a legitimate chance at the playoffs.
The fans, players and management of Washington’s NFL franchise have a host of problems to deal with, yet one wouldn’t know it from recent news coverage of the Redskins. Instead, it is the team’s name that is sparking a media controversy.
In the name of political correctness, liberal TV personalities like NBC’s Bob Costas and ESPN’s Keith Olbermann are leading a movement to pressure the Redskins’ owner, Dan Snyder, to change his team’s name to one more “respectful” of Native Americans. Dan Snyder has vowed not to comply: “We’ll never change the name. It’s that simple. Never.”
This is not the first time the name of a professional sports franchise has been changed in the service of political correctness. In 1997, Washington Bullets owner Abe Pollin decided unilaterally to drop his franchise’s name. In his mind, the term “Bullet” had a negative and violent connotation that was inappropriate for a city — then nicknamed the “murder capitol” of the U.S. — that was stricken with sky-high violent crime and homicide rates (as well as some of the strictest gun control laws in the country). Up until 2005, the NCAA included the Florida State Seminoles on their list of “hostile and abusive” mascots. This was rectified when the NCAA, much to its embarassment, learned that the Seminole nation actually supported the university’s use of its tribal name. In 2010, the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss) was pressured into changing its mascot from Colonel Reb to the Rebel Black Bear. Most recently, in 2011 the North Dakota Fighting Sioux were pressured by the NCAA to change their “offensive and abusive” name, or else face sanctions. Once sanctions became a possibility, the state legislature stepped in and forced the school to change its name. As of today, the team still does not have a new nickname.
There are important arguments against this name crusade that many reporters or supporters of the movement fail to mention. Significantly, an Annenberg Public Policy Center poll taken in 2004 found that 90 percent of Native Americans do not find use of the word “Redskins” offensive — contrary to what the Oneida Nation, the principle protester of the team’s name, would have you believe. An AP poll taken this year states that 79 percent of Americans favor keeping the name, a ten percent drop from 1992 but still an overwhelming majority.
To paraphrase the arbiters of discourse, they are essentially saying “Even though you and the ostensible victims are not offended by the term, you should be.”
The media has become so infatuated with charges of racism that they treat every claim of racist or offensive actions as a subject worthy of wall-to-wall coverage — even when the supposed victims are not bothered. Although this propensity may have initially risen from recognition of the shame of certain periods in American history, the tenor of public discourse has greatly progressed since those events. Nevertheless, media outlets such as MSNBC and Huffington Post often take up the offended party’s side on an issue of political correctness with no regard for the scope of the issue, which is minute.
If the name of the Washington Redskins was ever changed, it would be tantamount to an admission — which most consider false, according to polling — that the team’s name has always been racist. Is the appeasement of a very small portion of the population worth the negative effects that the change will have on the pride that Redskins fans, the vast majority of whom harbor no ill-will toward Native Americans, have in their sports team? And how about Cleveland Indians fans? Atlanta Braves fans?
By overwhelming margins, Native Americans and Americans in general do not find the term “Redskins” offensive — it’s fair to say Americans do not tune into ESPN for updates on the name-change movement. Furthermore, Dan Snyder’s commitment indicates there is little chance the team will voluntarily change its name for the foreseeable future. The media would do well to acknowledge these indicators and stop pressing for an unnecessary change to a beloved football team.
—Connor Kitchings is a freshman studying political science