Commentary: “Redskins” Is Name That Shames Us All

Criticism of racist name grows louder as even Roger Goodell has softened his hardline. 

Posted: 09/20/2013 11:07 AM EDT

We have become too cozy with the name Washington Redskins, accepting its use even in the face of judgment that tells us we should loathe it. Yet we love it, use it, embrace it in all its awfulness.

And for what — history?

History is a lousy excuse for our defense of a team name that’s so dreadful that its use should shame all of us. America has fought internal struggles against such bigotry throughout its history, and Black folks know well that this land of liberty has more of those struggles left to fight.

Let’s start the fight here, which is where The Washington Post might be willing to back our play 100 percent: Get rid of the name “Redskins.” An all-star roster of critics has lined up in the past week against owner Dan Snyder, who vows never to change the team’s name.

USA Today columnist Christine Brennan, who once covered the team for The Post, Keith Olbermann of ESPN, David Plotz of Slate, Ian Crouch of the New Yorker, Mike Freeman of CBS Sports, Will Wrigley of the Huffington Post, former Lakers coach Phil Jackson, 10 members of Congress and more than a handful of online and old media sites have spoken out against the term.

Even NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell seems to have softened his hardline. In an interview last week before Washington played the Green Bay Packers, he backed off ground he had staked out earlier this year.

“If we are offending one person, we need to be listening,” Goodell said on a D.C. radio station.

Goodell, a man slow to move on contentious issues, can no longer find the footing firm on this mountainous terrain.

He’s hardly alone.

Ignore the fact that 61 percent of D.C. area residents have no problem with the name, because their support runs counter to the chorus of critics that grows louder each day. Native American groups have railed against its use for decades now, and the Oneida Nation held a demonstration Sunday at the Washington-Packers game in Green Bay.

Such criticisms — and critics — have been dismissed under the misguided notion that, historically, the team’s name carried no racist connotations.

Perhaps at one point the word did not, but I don’t know when that point could have been. It hasn’t been in this millennium, and it’s hard to recall the name not having its critics even in the last quarter of the 1900s.

Against such opposition, even a rich, brattish owner as stubborn as Snyder must understand that a stand on a term as obscene as “Redskins” is not worth taking.

And people of color can surely find no reason to defend its use. While Blacks and Hispanics have their own issues to sort through, they cannot allow money and power to insult their brethren. Either they stand behind Native Americans or stand against them. There is no middle ground.

If they stand against their brethren, can they expect anybody to stand beside them as they continue to fight for the kind of justice that democracy promises but has been too slow to deliver?

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

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(Photo: Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)

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