We can argue ad nauseam over whether nicknames such as “Braves” and “Chiefs” are slurs against Native Americans.
There are valid points on both sides of that issue.
But there is no gray area when it comes to the name of the NFL team in Washington.
That term is racist — pure and simple.
It’s time for the NFL to take a stand on something besides its bottom line, to take whatever steps are necessary to force the team’s petulant owner, Dan Snyder, to change that horrific name.
Rest assured, it will happen at some point. Washington’s NFL team is on the wrong side of history, not unlike those who argued for segregation or against gay rights.
But what about the team’s history? Doesn’t that account for something?
Not at all (especially since the owner who came up with this name in the 1930s, George Preston Marshall, was clearly a racist).
“It is hard to justify keeping a team name purely for tradition when that name has ties to a time in our nation’s past when there was a bounty on each (offensive term deleted) an ‘Indian fighter’ brought in to a military outpost,” said Dennis Deninger, a longtime production executive at ESPN who now teaches sports communication at Syracuse University. “The time to break with that past is long overdue.”
Seriously, this should be an easy one for the NFL. Those who actually study the origins of our language and define what it all means are in complete agreement on this word. The Oxford Dictionaries describes it as “dated” and “offensive.” Merriam-Webster says the word “is very offensive and should be avoided.”
Snyder keeps insisting that he won’t be pressured into changing his team’s offensive moniker.
In many ways, he reminds me of former Augusta National chairman Hootie Johnson, who famously said the home of the Masters would not be forced into accepting women members “at the point of the bayonet.”
Well, look what happened a couple of years ago. Augusta National doled out green jackets to a pair of females. The world went on. The Masters wasn’t the least bit affected.
In a letter to season-ticket holders last month, Snyder addressed the issue at length for the first time with such nonsense as the name being a “badge of honor,” going back to the franchise having a Native American coach during its early days in Boston.
Of course, he didn’t mention research that questions whether William “Lone Star” Dietz was an actual Indian or stole the identity of a missing man from the Oglala Sioux tribe. Snyder also cited polls and anecdotal evidence that indicate support for the name from Native Americans, though activists have questioned the validity of those surveys.
Actually, it doesn’t matter whether they’re accurate or not. Snyder’s campaign is merely a smoke screen to cover the real issue — the millions and millions of dollars he worries about losing if he changes the name.
On that issue, he might have a point.
David E. Johnson, the CEO of Atlanta-based Strategic Vision, a public relations and branding agency, said the Washington franchise could take a huge financial hit by reversing course now on the issue of a name change.
“It they do rename it, it’s going to take time to win back the old fans who get angry because the name was changed,” Johnson said Friday. “When the sponsors look at that, do they really want to be in a rebuilding process when there are others teams they could go advertise with? Even if they are in the D.C. area, they could go up to the Baltimore area and advertise with the Ravens.”
This is where the league needs to step up.
Commissioner Roger Goodell needs to tell Snyder, privately but in no uncertain terms, that there will be a change — three to four years from now, to allow for a smooth transition.
Snyder’s legitimate financial concerns must be addressed, perhaps from a special fund set up by the other 31 teams. Think about it: If each team contributed just $10 million — basically, pocket change given the value of NFL franchises — there would be a rather tempting financial incentive to dangle in front of the Washington owner. Of, if can show he’s lost significant revenue after the name is changed, the NFL could commit to making up at least part of the difference.
Perhaps Snyder could leverage a name change into getting that new stadium he wants in the District of Columbia, which is unlikely to happen as long as the team carries its current nickname. President Obama recently suggested that it might be time to consider a change. The mayor of Washington goes out of his way to avoid using the offensive term.
Fans are overwhelmingly in favor of keeping the name, evidenced by a poll released over the summer by The Washington Post. It showed 61 percent of city residents liked the name, and support was even higher among self-described fans; about eight in 10 said the team shouldn’t change its name.
But more telling was this part of the survey: Among those who want to keep the name, 56 percent said the word is inappropriate in apparently every context except naming an NFL team. Only 28 percent believed it was acceptable to use.
That name has to go.
Reach Paul Newberry at pnewberryap.org or www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963