By: Brian Mangan
A couple of weeks ago at The Read Zone, we published a long, in-depth article looking at the complex and nuanced situation involving the nickname of the Washington Redskins football franchise.
The issue involves questions of history, the evolution of language, and of who gets to determine whether something is offensive, and how? A true understanding of the topic would require a deeply rooted understanding of the origin of the word and of how and why things in our society are deemed offensive.
Unfortunately, most of the reporting on the topic in the media has been a disservice to the topic. It’s not that it’s not possible that “Redskins” might be offensive and warrant changing – because it might be – but almost all of the discussion of it in the media has been simplistic, reflexive, and poorly thought-out.
So when two former Redskins greats, Art Monk and Darrell Green, were asked about the topic of the nickname on the radio, the media immediately pounced. The headlines crowed proudly:
“Darrell Green, Art Monk urge Redskins to consider name change.” Los Angeles Times
“Two Redskins Hall Of Famers Say Redskins Nickname Is Offensive.” Deadspin
Well, wait a second. What did Monk and Green actually say? It turns out that the two men made thoughtful comments on the topic, respecting the dignity of these sovereign people to determine for themselves what the meaning of the word is. As reported by WTOP Radio:
“[If] Native Americans feel like Redskins or the Chiefs or [another] name is offensive to them, then who are we to say to them ‘No, it’s not’?” said Monk.
“It deserves and warrants conversation because somebody is saying, ‘Hey, this offends me.’” Green says.
Can you tell me where exactly Green or Monk say its offensive? Or where they urge the team to change the name? That’s right – you can’t – because they don’t say it. (Footnote: The majority of other sites reported the story with a more accurate headline, such as: “Redskins Legends Art Monk, Darrell Green Say Team Should Discuss Name Change” ThinkProgress) Monk and Green simply acknowledge exactly what The Read Zone acknowledged a few weeks ago: there should be a serious dialogue directly with the people who might be offended by the name, and that their feelings on the topic deserve a seat at the table.
Deadspin, however, misreported what Green and Monk said, in line with the agenda that they have been pushing for weeks: Deadspin thinks the Redskins should change their name. I actually was able to engage the author of the Deadspin article about their misleading headline. Rather than acknowledge it, he dug his heels in:
Me: That’s NOT what the excerpted quote says. Both men said that if Native Americans think it’s racist, it’s not the players’ or organization’s place to say otherwise. That’s it. Why are you guys compromising your journalistic cred to push this story?
Deadspin: “Both men said that if Native Americans think it’s racist, it’s not the players’ or organization’s place to say otherwise.” Which is an acknowledgement that the name is offensive.
Me: … what? Saying I respect your opinion on something personal to you, and which only you can judge, doesn’t mean I agree with you.
Deadspin: It’s still an acknowledgement that the name can be offensive to people, which is a far cry from the Redskins’ company line of “pride” and whatnot. And Monk says the team should “seriously consider” changing the name. Why? Because it offends people. Because it’s offensive. One need not be personally offended to recognize something’s offensive.
Me: Right. One need not be personally offended to realize something is offensive. But neither of these men say THEY think the name is offensive, which is what the headline says.
Deadspin: Their words clearly implied that they think the name is offensive because they were trying to stake a middle ground that doesn’t exist. The name’s either a slur or it isn’t. Let’s talk about it or It might be offensive to people is a away of acknowledging the name’s offensiveness without having to say it explicitly. Green’s mealy-mouthed attempt to walk back his remarks makes that clear.
And wouldn’t you know it? Lo and behold! Thanks to all of the media and internet nonsense flying around trying to tell Darrell Green what he said, he had to make another statement on the topic.
“In no way I want to see the Redskins change their name,” Green said to 106.7 The Fan’s Lavar and Dukes. “So that just makes that clear. And I’ll speak for Art, there’s no way he wants it, and I guarantee he didn’t say it, and I know I didn’t say it.”
“And my comments were that, ‘Look, if it offended somebody – if somebody was offended, then I think it merits at least a discussion.’ I mean, goodness, I mean, people should be able to say ‘Hey, you offended me’ and somebody should be able to have a dialogue. Now, where it lands, that’s another thing.”
Shameful, really, that he had to clarify when he said nothing of the sort – and more shameful that Deadspin would characterize it as “mealy-mouthed.”
Green has a fine, principled position on the matter. He says he thinks it’s the right thing to do to have a dialogue, and for him to be able to “talk about it with [his] daughters.” You would think that this would be the end of it, at least for now, right? You would think that Deadspin and other outlets that over-reported the story might apologize?
Nope. Deadspin continues to slam down the anvil, writing today about Green’s clarification:
“And of course [Redskins is] offensive. We know it’s racist, and you know it’s racist, and most importantly, owner Dan Snyder knows it’s racist, because actual Native Americans have come forward and said it’s racist. Still, Snyder’s not budging, because he’s a bad person.
But when they, like Green, scamper in line with the racist owner of the league’s most historically racist franchise, it gives off the impression that a racial slur as a team name is OK, acceptable, a source of pride, even when we all know it’s not.”
Instead of apologizing for mischaracterizing his statement to fit their narrative, Deadspin doubled down, basically characterizing Green as cowardly for walking back his statement. and “scampering in line” with the powerful NFL and Redskins’ owner. It is shameful of them to do that.
As I wrote in the original article here on The Read Zone – and as so many other more learned folks have written before me – whether or not “Redskins” is offensive or a slur is not a decision that belongs to the media elite. I recoil at the notion that any outside group might have the ability or the right to determine what is “racist” on behalf of other Peoples. That is why I took as thorough of a look at the topic as I did a few weeks ago. Here are some of the things I learned:
- Nearly four in five Americans don’t think the team should change its name, and a recent poll showed that an overwhelming ninety percent of Native Americans are not bothered by the “Redskins” moniker.
- The meaning of words change over time: “bitch” went from non-offensive, to offensive to men, to offensive to women; “guy” went from offensive to non-offensive; “shit” used to be a more polite word for poop, like “crap” is today, while there were more highly offensive words for it; “retarded” went from a word found in music, to a word to describe those with mental handicaps, and only finally, recently, into an insult.
- A federal lawsuit seeking to invalidate the “Redskins” trademark was dismissed by the Courts because the plaintiffs had failed to show that “the use of the term ‘redskin(s)’ in the context of a football team and related entertainment services would be viewed by a substantial composite of Native Americans… as disparaging.”
- My research into the historical use of the term is inconclusive at best.
Yet, the story does not die. It likely will not die, until the name is changed. As another Deadspin commenter said, “If we write enough articles that simply state matter-of-factly that this nickname is racist and that we, of course, all know that the nickname is not acceptable, eventually the public will come around to our enlightened way of thinking.” I agree – having stated in my first article:
“The ironic part of the discussion of the word “Redskins” is that it is likely that this round of criticism of the word will transform, or has already transformed, the word “Redskins” into a pejorative when it may not have been one before. With the echo chamber of the internet, newspapers, and sound-bite hungry politicians consistently starting at their conclusion (“the word Redskins is clearly racist!!”) and turning the hyperbole up to 11 (“today we no longer tolerate evil that in another era we would’ve taken for granted!!”) it is all but assured that this generation will think that the word has always a slur, regardless of whether or not it was.”
In fact, even Green himself appears to have recognized that the narrative on this has been entirely media driven: “You know and I know, in your industry, certain people, you know, they want to have different agendas and they’ve got stuff to say, and you know, you want people to think this.”
Well, I’m sorry Mr. Green that you’ve been dragged into this by those with their agendas. Hopefully, for you and Mr. Monk, the worst is over. Deadspin: will you continue to double-down or recognize that this issue is complex and does not belong to you to decide?
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