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Let me start by saying this. I’m not going to call the Washington Redskins “the Washington football team.” I’m going to call them the Washington Redskins. That’s their name. I admire the movement amongst some writers and TV people to banish the name from their everyday language. There’s no legal or moral or sensible way for them to force the name to change, but their stand against using it, in its own modern way, in its own smaller way, reminds me of the spirit of the civil rights movement, of freedom rides and blacks in Levittown and people of color sitting at counters and drinking at fountains. I admire the movement, but I won’t follow after it, because pretending the Redskins aren’t called the Redskins defeats the purpose of calling attention to the fact that they’re called such a name to begin with. I won’t call them otherwise. I will call them the Redskins.
But before long, I won’t have to.
Make no mistake. I don’t break news often, but when I do, you can count on me being right. The Washington Redskins will change their name. Not this season, maybe not next—maybe not even at a point this decade. But they will change it, whether they know it yet or not.
Redskins owner Dan Snyder has made a career of being obstinate. He can defend the name as meaning honor and respect all he wants. The team is named after an ethnic group. This is 2014. That simply can’t persist. The movement to get the name changed is finally reaching critical mass. It is a source of discussion all year long. There are more examples to prove this than I should bother to list here, but the name ban above is just one of those examples, followed by recent skewerings on comedy institutions like South Park and The Daily Show, or the fact that the team’s trademark has notably been revoked. When a cultural snowball rolls this far downhill, there is simply not enough manpower in the Dan Snyder household—or really all the households in the country, combined—to stop it. Civil rights for blacks couldn’t be stopped. Gay marriage couldn’t be stopped. The legalization of pot couldn’t be stopped. And the change-the-name movement won’t be stopped, either. Attribute this movement to whatever you want. Say it’s the media, stirring up trouble. The snowball is coming. Get out of its way.
And, really, I don’t understand why people take issue with this. The Washington “Redskins”? That’s not obviously offensive? I hear people—many of them not even Redskins fans; just keepers of tradition, or in some cases Republicans—defending the name on the same grounds as Snyder, saying we should keep it, saying it’s tradition.
Slavery was tradition.
British rule was tradition.
I think the cavemen had a tradition of dragging women by their hair.
Monday Night Football being on free TV was a tradition, and that changed, and look: the world is still turning. We have Sunday Night Football now. We have a new tradition.
Traditions are fine. Some are even great. Maybe the Redskins tradition even has something to it.
But honestly. The “Redskins”? That doesn’t strike you as… wrong? As shrill? As obvious? What is it you’re holding onto? What makes this name so special? Or is it not the name itself, but what the movement represents?
There are people in this world, in this country, in your neighborhood, who are scared of a thing they call “political correctness.” Any time I hear the phrase “political correctness,” I immediately tune out the argument, because it almost invariably has no merit and is based more on fear than reason and logic. The people who argue changing the Redskins’ name is “political correctness run amok” are the same ones who turn around and offer arguments like, “What’s next? You’re going to change the Cowboys’ name because it’s offensive to Cowboys? You’re going to change the Eagles’ name because it’s offensive to birds?”
We are comparing teams named after animals to teams named after ethnic groups of humans. That’s not political correctness. It’s cultural tone deafness.
It’s commodifying and commercializing a whole group of people, who frankly haven’t had it so easy to begin with. It’s turning an ethnicity into a brand, and defending the move with two giant (foam) middle fingers.
This would be like naming a team the Washington Insensitive Idiots, and saying it honors the people who can’t figure out how Redskins is a racist name.
Think about this for a moment. Cultures are different. Sometimes those differences are fun. Sometimes making fun of those differences is the best way for different people to get along. But telling someone, “Tough. We’re naming a team after you. Be honored,” is not having fun. It’s being rude, cruel, and stupid, and if it wasn’t an ethnicity we’ve given ourselves permission as a culture to make fun of, many Redskins defenders would be slower to defend it.
Imagine there was a 75-year-old team called the Washington Slaves, with a big black man in tattered clothing trotting around as its mascot. Imagine its fans defending the team’s motif as a proud tradition. “It’s a nod to our heritage,” its patently obvious racist supporters would say. “Slaves were bred to be big and strong and to have a great work ethic. Just the kinds of qualities we want in our football players.” This would be so evidently inappropriate that I’m not even comfortable writing the analogy. It would get kicked out of our culture so quickly, if you blinked, you would miss that it was even ever there. Jimmy the Greek got kicked off TV for basically saying what I just wrote in quote marks… and that wasn’t during the Obama era, but Reagan, nearly 30 years ago. That’s a long time. Awareness is growing, not going away. It is becoming more and more obvious in this country that there is a line that public discourse shouldn’t cross.
It’s easy to understand why actual people in actual Washington would defend the name Redskins. They don’t want outsiders riding in and telling them what to do. Talk about traditions: that’s an American one, if there is one. I get it. I follow it. Why anyone else would defend the name is becoming increasingly incomprehensible.
Which is why, before long, there won’t be a Redskins name to defend. Because the moment is coming. The name is changing. And there isn’t anything that Dan Snyder or the average racist-nickname-defending, non-Redskins-rooting American can do to stop it. Maybe not this year, maybe not next. But as attitudes change—as sensibilities evolve—the cultural pressure will swell to a point where it can only be released, no longer ignored.
And when that moment comes—because it will; the name will change—I just want you to remember one thing: this article.
I want you to remember you heard it here first.