League officials seem ambivalent about what to do about racist team like “Redskins.”
Commissioner of the NFL Roger Goodell (Photo: Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
All the talk around the NFL about fining players for using the n-word on the field would be an interesting discussion if not for one significant point: A fine for using the n-word shows how misguided the NFL is.
No one has heard the NFL utter a word about fining the owner of one of its multimillion-dollar franchises for holding firm to a remnant of America’s racist past. No ESPN program has stepped forward to look at what the word “redskin” has come to mean to Native-Americans.
They have no hip hop artists behind them, no one out there who’s trying to mainstream a word that is as polarizing to them as the n-word is to Black people.
So the word “hypocrite” should come to people’s minds when anyone hears NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and his leadership team talk about levying fines against players who use the n-word in the heat of a football game.
Not a single player, though, risks a fine for playing n-word-laden rap music in a team’s locker room. So it’s all right to listen to the word; a player just can’t say the n-word.
Still, the controversy about it ought not push talk about the term “redskin” into the shadows. Just like the n-word, redskin brings with it a history that white America would rather not remember.
But everything it does keeps the word under a microscope, and as Blacks fought to define themselves, so, too, are Native-Americans. They are waging the kind of uphill fight that is picking up supporters along the way.
In their corner now are President Barack Obama, the mayor of Washington, D.C., church leaders and a fistful of U.S. senators. What might draw more to this side of the issue is to think about how discrimination manifests itself. Often, it does so in subtle ways.
Listen to Redskins owner Dan Snyder, and he will point to the rich history of the word and how ennobling it is. Snyder will say the public loves the word, and he might be right here.
But should the public define a people? Or is that duty best left to the people themselves to do? And should the defining, whoever does it, be racist?
During the Super Bowl last month, a group of Native-Americans produced a commercial that did the defining for them. The commercial didn’t make it on television, because, well … even a just cause runs into high hurdles when it doesn’t have millions to throw at airtime.
The commercial didn’t go unwatched, however. It spoke to a people proud of their heritage, a people who wanted the world to look at them as not the noble savages of the Wild West but as fathers, mothers, doctors, lawyers, soldiers, ranchers, teachers and heroes:
Native-Americans call themselves many things; the one thing they don’t …
In a society where white privilege still carries more sway than it ought to, Native-Americans face challenges that other under-appreciated minorities do. All of them struggle to achieve what whites do; all of them seek to be defined in terms they design.
It’s an injustice for any group to see its image, its history distorted. Americans know that fixing those distortions is a slow, tedious process, but no fix will ever come as long as a league shines its spotlight on one problem and dismisses another for no reason.
Perhaps a reason does exist, though. For doesn’t history show us all that there is big money in racism?
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Follow Justice B. Hill on Twitter: @jbernardh