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Devilish Disrespect

“The Other Side of the Tracks”

A Socially Speaking commentary  by Perry Redd

A Socially Speaking Commentary from Perry Redd

A Socially Speaking Commentary from Perry Redd

With all of the social injustice embedded within the stalemate in the government shutdown, I am greatly compelled to elevate the discussion on the change of Washington’s National Football League team.  I’ll only write it once in this commentary for the sake of context.  The nickname and mascot, Redskin, is devilishly disrespectful—not only to the Native American—but to all Americans…even if they cannot recognize disrespect.

The conversation has reached the highest levels of government with President Obama opining on the matter.  Some believe that this is outside of his purview.  I vehemently disagree.  Matters of interstate commerce (regulated by the congress), matters of social structure, societal order or human dignity, the Chief Executive has a responsibility to give Americans national leadership (which Republicans repeatedly accuse him of not doing).

The President said he would consider changing it because it offends many Native Americans. “If I were the owner of the team and I knew that there was a name of my team — even if it had a storied history — that was offending a sizeable group of people, I’d think about changing it,” Obama said in an interview with the Associated Press published Saturday.

I’ve heard some argue against changing the offensive name of Washington’s team for a variety of reasons; among them, tradition, money losses, polled popularity or simple recalcitrance.  Though each of the reasons are based in arrogance and/or blatant disrespect, I’ll address them all.

Team owner Daniel Snyder has said he would never change the name of the team, which has been called by that name since George Preston Marshall owned the franchise in Boston in 1933. Marshall moved the team to Washington in 1937, and it has since become one of the National Football League’s most profitable franchises.

Snyder is simply carrying on a racist tradition.  By the way, when George Preston Marshall died in 1969, he left money to his children but mandated that the bulk of his estate be used to set up a foundation in his name, with the attachment of one firm condition: that the foundation, operating out of Washington, should not direct a single dollar toward “any purpose which supports or employs the principle of racial integration in any form.”  Is this the tradition you are honoring?

Then I heard former Washington defensive player Dexter Manley on a local station spouting “I say never change the name! I don’t see many of them walkin’ around here anyway”  This racial insensitivity and historical arrogance is the same arrogance of white supremacists of the first half of the 20th century.  I guess he feels he’s now a part of the oppressor class.  I ask how Black players can be proud of this tradition?

Marshall was the last owner to field a black player—a full 15 years after the ban of Black players was lifted.  His team drafted a Black player then (in 1961) only because it was forced to by the government—the then-new stadium that we call RFK Stadium today was built on Department of Interior land, which permitted the Kennedy administration to order the lessee (the team) to adhere to federal nondiscrimination policies.  He had to be forced to do the right thing.  Do you have to be forced to do the right thing (like affordable healthcare for all)?

Mainly for football enthusiasts—and Washington team fans—the argument lies in the team’s 80-year history.  Tradition of the name is their un-bending cry.  I argue oppositionally that tradition would’ve kept slavery as an institution.  Some traditions are realized—over time—that they fail to comport with social and human progress.

Lanny Davis, the attorney for the team, said in a statement in response to the President’s comments, “But like devoted fans of the Atlanta Braves, the Cleveland Indians and the Chicago Blackhawks (from President Obama’s home town), we love our team and its name and, like those fans, we do not intend to disparage or disrespect a racial or ethnic group. The name ‘Washington R—s’ is 81 years old — it’s our history and legacy and tradition.  On its face, this is an inadequate and juvenile response.

First of all “Brave,” “Indian,” “Chief,” “Seminole” or “Blackhawk” are not disparaging, even complimentary, in nature as opposed to the name Washington holds dear.  The term derives from the use of “red” as a color metaphor for race following European colonization of the Western Hemisphere, although initial explorers and later Anglo-Americans superficially identified Native Americans light-skinned, brown, tawny, or russet skin as something negative. The term was used by Anglo-Europeans to distinguish the Indigenous Americans who were held in high disdain, mainly because of their righteous resistance to the aggressive takeover of their native lands by the Anglo-American settlers during the nineteenth century.

There are a variety of things we used to do, think and believe that we no longer hold fast to…and with good cause.  Interracial marriage, women working outside the home, minstrelsy, the 55 mile-an-hour speed limit, smoking or fuel-inefficient cars, just to name a few. All of these were traditions in serious matters of American society.

Some have attempted to argue that losses in merchandise sales would be untenable.  There’s nothing further from the truth.  Turning old emblems of racism into relics might very well turn out to be collector’s items when they need to be burned.  With the most profitable sports magnate on earth, the NFL wouldn’t miss the opportunity to market a new oddity—Washington’s non-offensive team mascot.  They did it with the Titans, they did it with the Texans, so it’s not foreign to the NFL.  Hell, you’ve got to recall the Washington Bullets? That argument is a non-issue.

I’ve heard people—including the team management—quote opinion polls.  We all know polls are only as good as the integrity of the poll-taker. According to a Washington Post poll in June, 61 percent of Washingtonians support the name, and 80 percent of the team’s fans said the team should not change it.  Loyalists are not the substance of objectivity.  I’ve been a Washingtonian all my life and I’ve not once been approached to respond to a single poll question…in 50 years!

Then, they say an Annenberg Public Policy Center poll of Native Americans conducted in 2004 found that a majority were not bothered by the team’s name.  I want to know which Native Americans they polled?  Those educated in American institutions or those on oppressed and impoverished reservations?  The teams quoting disingenuous polls is devilishly dishonest.

I’d rather Americans be honest and genuine.  Most are indifferent simply because it isn’t them who are being offended.  As long as it’s someone else, there is usually no urgency to change an injustice.  Crack cocaine laws, mandatory minimum sentencing for low-level drug offenders or disparate education don’t matter if you’re on the winning end of any of these. Lack of access to affordable healthcare doesn’t matter if you’ve got affordable healthcare.  Why would you want the law changed if it works for you?  The issue is, you are not the only person who exists in American society.

There are some who are simply racist—even ignorant Blacks—who would be offended if the NFL fielded the North Carolina Niggers as a franchise, but can’t see the racism in the current Washington team name.  GOP consultant Mike Murphy quipped on Meet The Press this past weekend that the Redskins should keep their name “unless we get a casino in trade.”  How utterly insulting.  Racial insensitivity is not an accident anymore.  People our age have been educated.

Even the NFL Commissioner, Roger Goodell, understands that humanly offending fellow Americans is un-American. “If we are offending one person, we need to be listening,” Goodell said in an interview with WJFK-FM, “and making sure that we’re doing the right things to try to address that.”  Its not shameful, in all of your arrogance, to divert from an erroneous belief system.

NFL players, on the other hand, are mere youth of the nation with very few aware of this country’s sordid past.  Not changing the team’s name is devilishly disrespectful to Americans who’s history was soaked in blood.  America owes them a debt of gratitude by respecting them and their humanity.

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