Last Friday, in a judicial decision that hinged on a legal technicality, the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., upheld the right of the local pro football team to keep its unconscionable nickname.
Gloated team attorney Bob Raskopf, "It's a great day for the Redskins and their fans and their owner, Dan Snyder."
Alas, it was another shameful day for America.
(Stephen J. Boitano/AP Photo)
In clinging to the most racially offensive moniker held by a major U.S. professional sports team since the Emancipation Proclamation – yes, I know, since forever – the franchise continues to offend some Native Americans and assault the sensibilities of a citizenry that should be long past such insensitive and shallow depictions.
How can a large majority of us not be offended? Imagine trying to explain "Redskins" to a foreign visitor or a time-traveler from the future? Every time I say the word, I throw up in my mouth a little and wonder why there is no widespread outrage.
I've heard all the arguments about why this name should be allowed to exist, and they move me about as much as Jim Zorn's red-zone offense in a tight game against a strong opponent. (Sorry – I realize that was a cheap shot. Besides, I wouldn't want to get 'Skins fans ticked off at me or anything.)
You can spare me the protestations about how the name is actually a tribute to Native Americans, or how other allegedly similar groups (Vikings? Really?) are also consigned to mascot status. You can skip the talk about the importance of the team name to its fans or the tradition that would be compromised were it to be changed.
I'm not hearing it, because if I close my eyes and think about where we are as a society and the fact that this name still exists, it's a complete travesty on both visceral and logical levels.
Would we "honor," say, Chicago's African-American population by calling its NFL team the Brownskins?
If the NBA placed a franchise in Hawaii, would it consider paying homage to the islands' Asian influences by competing as the Yellowskins?
And while I'm sure we could all come up with some Jewish slurs to continue the analogy, I submit that an anti-Semitic major league owner like Marge Schott might've been quite comfortable fielding a team known as the Foreskins.
Ridiculous? Absolutely. And Redskin is just as absurd, whether you've been conditioned to regard it as normal or not.
Worse, it's blatantly offensive, and don't bother trotting out the examples of certain Native Americans who regard it as a sign of great respect. The fact that even a handful of them were upset enough to sue to stop the name from existing, a legal fight that has gone on for 17 years and counting, should be enough to let decency prevail. And if you're angrily composing an email telling me how the name's meaning to you and your fellow fans supersedes the desires of these people not to be publicly lampooned, I'm going to bet my last Abe Lincoln note that you're not a member of a traditionally oppressed minority group.
If changing the name of the established team in the nation's capital seems so unthinkable, you might be forgetting about the Washington Wizards, who from 1963-1997 were known as the Bullets. Two years earlier owner Abe Pollin had announced that, because he had grown uncomfortable with the nickname's violent overtones, the NBA franchise would be rechristened, and a fan contest ensued.
So the Bullets became the Wizards, and guess what? The sun came up the next morning, the rivers continued to flow to the oceans, and Calbert Cheaney kept getting beat off the dribble. (OK, that was a cheap shot, too. Just making sure you're still paying attention.)
Things change. Societies evolve. The improbable becomes reality. Remember, there's a family that recently moved to a D.C. residence at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, and its presence there made a statement to the world about how far our country has come in terms of racial enlightenment.
Since the words "President" and "Obama" became Siamese twins (oops, another outdated term), it has never been so tough to make the argument that in the United States, a person's skin color is a primary means by which he/she is judged.
Unless, of course, you're part of that minuscule slice of the population that pays attention to pro football. Those of us, like our current commander-in-chief, who fall into that category need to think long and hard about our tolerance for such a preposterously backward name in such a conspicuous setting.
The Redskins may have had their day in court and prevailed, at least for the time being. It's my sincere hope that before too long, the court of public opinion is far less forgiving.
TRIPPIN' ON E(MAIL)
"Mike you made one mistake in that Palmer article about the Bengals. He's #2 on the bandwagon I would be #1. I told my Steelers laden family when we were watching the Super Bowl that the Bengals would be playing in this game next season. This coming from an often skeptical fan of the organization and on the field product. I noticed you also made the point that the Bengals have had a long drought of winless seasons but you also failed to mention that prior to last season we hadn't had any losing seasons since Lewis took over either. Ok I'm being a bit facetious we were 7-9 in '07, splitting heirs IMO. So we have been a mediocre team with a good 11-5 season and miserable season mixed in. Is it such a stretch to think that a mediocre team that played little to no team defense in that stretch could now have it right with an ever improving defense? Certainly health plays the major role for every team and assuming nothing bordering on ridiculous as has happened to the past two seasons happens we are playoff material. Only the Colts, Pats and S.D. even remotely worry me. That's right Pittsburgh and Baltimore don't scare me in the least. Don't take my word for it, just go to the film and see a different Bengals team in the second half of the season than you have seen since the days of [Sam] Wyche."
I admire your optimism, but I have to ask: Pittsburgh doesn't scare you in the least? Really? I'm guessing there are many members of your Steelers-laden family who are getting quite a chuckle out of that statement (if not literally "splitting heirs").
"Carson Palmer's(notes) the coolest guy on the NFL, not only he seems humble about his own talent, he's bragging about his young teammates, trying to give them some much needed confidence, that's how a leader acts, and the fact that, as the biggest and most talented Bengals player, has yet to ask for a trade from the Bengals makes him way cooler than the other two idiots [T.J. Houshmandzadeh(notes) and Chad Ochocinco(notes)]. Hopefully the Benglas will be competitive this year. Although I still believe Marvin Lewis just wants to get the hell out of there. Great article!"
Muchas gracias, and don't be so hard on El Senor Houshmandzadeh. He had his reasons, and he got a lot of money from the Seahawks.
"Ironic that in the same week as Kevin Smith(notes) posts a quote on his personal blog stating that the Lions will make the playoffs – upon which you rip him – Carson Palmer claims that the Bengals will go '6-0, 10-2' in person and you back him. Clearly a distinction between the accomplishments of the two players and their 'cred,' but your bias towards personal relationships seems to have clouded your 'reporting.' Cincinnati's first-round pick can't pick an agent, decide whether to work out at the combine, or stay away from a sports agent while still an 'amateur,' yet Detroit's arrivals of [Julian] Peterson, [Larry] Foote, [Matthew] Stafford, [Brandon] Pettigrew, [Grady] Jackson, [Phillip] Buchanon, not to mention [Jim] Schwartz and [Scott] Linehan go marginalized. I'd love to think that Yahoo! has the closest thing to critically minded, objective journalism – it'd be nice if your submissions validated my hopes. Stay away from trying to be another Peter King or Len Pasta Belly and push the bar of journalism up a little higher. Please. Respectfully,"
Hmmm … a columnist opines that a losing team is more likely to have a successful season than another losing team that just completed the worst regular season in NFL history? Shocking! One obvious reason for this, as you stated, is the "distinction between the accomplishments of the two players" in question; that's a very objective way of looking at it. Given that I'm paid to be subjective, however, it's a moot point. On the other hand, as I've stated repeatedly, I'm a big Jim Schwartz fan and believe he'll do very good things in Detroit before all is said and done.
"In regards to your article about the Lions … Why do you have to act like a pompous jerk? Why not write something saying 'Lions showing determination'? Are you that out of work? How original … someone takes another shot at the Lions. Write something original. Slamming the Lions? C'mon. But in the end … You won't because you're a typical sports writer. It's not going to bother you, but I just wanted to say this was the last article I'll ever read of yours."
Winter Haven, Fla.
Whoa, it's Sensitive Guy. Perhaps the fame that results from your presence in "Trippin' " will cause you to reconsider your stance. As for some of your complaints: I am definitely not out of work, and I'm most certainly not a typical sportswriter. Acting like a pompous jerk? Well, perhaps I have my moments. As far as my decision not to cast the Lions as a team "showing determination," are you really that surprised? They went 0-16 last season – oh and 16! – and now one of their players is saying they'll "definitely" make the playoffs. (And he's getting goofed on by me, and Motown is up in arms … )
"I'm commenting on your most recent article about the Lions. Give Smith a break, will ya? He's a young guy who's all pumped up about the upcoming season. He took his lumps like a man last year [and I seriously doubt you could have done the same]. Even though the team didn't win a game there were quite a few games that could have conceivably gone the other way … like both games against the Vikes. Should he have kept his yap shut until they succeed? … maybe. But, then again … you don't."
You've read this column before, and you question whether I'm capable of taking lumps? Really? That's an interesting perspective. As for the games that conceivably could've gone the other way, there were 16 of them – yet, in a stunning coincidence, none did.
"That's Kevin and Calvin [Johnson] sitting right there in the picture, living through the nightmare that was last season. Kevin has the right to dream, to aspire to be better. He is in a position to do something about it, and he will be held responsible if he doesn't improve the team. Now, how do you get the right to have as opinion in this, to judge and ridicule others?"
Victoria, British Columbia
It so happens I got the right from a Canadian pharmacy, at incredibly discounted rates!
"Your an idiot Silver, always have been; always will be. Way to kick a team while their down. Typical left wing rhetoric. Keep your claws out of my Bolts this year idiot."
Are they your Bolts, or do they technically belong to the Spanos family? Because, at the very least, the Spanoses are right-wingers who, when calling someone an idiot, have the intellectual capacity not to mistake the word "your" with the contraction "you're." Keep your claws away from the keyboard, righty. (On the other hand, after watching my daughter's soccer team, Supremacy, brave triple-digit temperatures to win the Concord Cup on Sunday, I have nothing but love for your fair city.)
"What about the Cowboys swagger? They are more successful than the Steelers really. Look at the amount of Super Bowls in time periods. It tooks the Steelers 75 years to get 6. The Cowboys have 5 out of their 50 years. You do the dividing. Also, look at playoff wins. I honestly think you have a thing against the 'Boys. I rarely see you having a positive comment on them."
I did the dividing, and here's what I came up with: There have been 43 (XLIII) Super Bowls. The Steelers and Cowboys each had a crack at winning 43 of them. I am positive that the Cowboys have won one fewer Super Bowl than the Steelers. Thank you.
"Your article on the Lions and Kevin Smith's comments was mean-spirited and childish. Smith sounds like a competitive, young player with a winning attitude. I care most about what happens on the field. What players say can be interesting. Writers can sometimes add something positive to that discussion, but you rarely do. Grow up, loser."
Apparently, it takes a real adult to call another man a loser.
"Why is it there are no repercussions to horrible ownership decisions? Were it not for the revenue sharing in the NFL, the Lions would be out of business given their history of sorry leadership. If that team were like the industry the city calls its own, they'd be standing in line right behind Chrysler for a handout. It seems to me there should be some form of evaluation for ownership being committed to putting a winning team on the field. I understand that there are thousands of variables that go into winning in the NFL, but there's a limit to how long it should take to win. I propose that the NFL [and any other pro sport] institute a review process that sets up some sort of timeline. For instance, a 10-year playoff drought requires at least 50 percent change in ownership. I think Lions fans [and Pittsburgh Pirates fans] would sign the petition for that policy."
Oh, how patently un-American of you … I understand your frustration, but as you suggest the revenue sharing enables atrocious ownership to endure indefinitely, and I don't see the owners (who, as you know, pay Roger Goodell's salary and have the power to fire him) being down with a review process that could cost any of them their teams. Right now, you'll have to settle for my annual owner rankings, which will drop in a couple of months.
"Dude, if that was you standing behind Mark Sanchez(notes) during the draft, you looked a little disheveled. Hopefully you were out the night before, or just getting in from the night before, downing many tequilas! Keep up the good work!"
Let's see … L.A., old friends, killer Mexican restaurants … Dude.
"… My favorite farm-division little league team, the Padres, who continued their impressive season … ' Now I know you're an amazing wordsmith, but for a second there as I read this I couldn't believe how you combined sarcasm, belittling, and outright denigration with a huge compliment in so few words. Then it became quite clear the comments weren't aimed at the San Diego Padres. But they could have been, unfortunately, save the last part about continuing their impressive season. Ugh."
That's pretty funny. (And, also, an excuse to draw even more attention to my youngest child's little league team, which closed out its season with a pair of victories over the weekend.)
"Man … I've been reading your stuff a long time. Love it, keep up the good work. But I will not be doing any 'grenadine shots'! What is that about … I want my Don Julio Silver back!"
Blame it on the kids.
"Mike: Love the column, will be lining up a couple Don Julio shots for you in Pittsford if you come to the Bills camp this summer. One question; How do you think the Bills are going to do this year? Is this finally the year we break out and make it to the playoffs?
I am happy to report that, yes, it is. Pittsford, here I come (without the kids … though, likely, with my dad in tow.
"Michael, I have to hand it to you, your lyric altered Tuna and Taylor song has trumped everything you have ever done! The lyrics were hilarious enough, but the image in my head of [Bill] Parcells and Jason Taylor(notes) serenading each other put me into hysterics. Keep up the good work my man."
Thanks, man, and I have to hand it to you: You may be the only person in Michigan who's not mad at me for goofing on Kevin Smith.
"I still can't stop laughing at your 'Reunited' rewrite. Any truth to the rumor that if and when Idol ditches Kara DioGuardi, they will replace her with the brilliant songwriter known as Michael Silver?"
Kansas City, Mo.
If so, I'll be the most ridiculous Cal alum to grace that stage since this guy.
"Have you ever thought about recording your lyric altered songs? Even if you can't sing, you shouldn't let it stop you. It hasn't stopped P. Diddy or Eminem. I think your regular readers would get a kick out of it, and it would help those readers who don't know the songs you're referencing to pick up the tune."
"Colts 16 … huh? you = moron, idiot, and or [expletive] bag! have a good day"
Really, how can I not?
"Dear Michael, Several weeks ago I responded to your power rankings in very cruel manner, choosing to attack you personally rather than offer a thoughtful rebuttal. In the weeks following my response my life went into a guilt-inspired tailspin [not really, but I do feel bad about it]. I have come to realize that your low ranking of my favorite team is not a personal attack on me. I would like to apologize for my comments, though I am confident that you have become immune to the heckling of fanatic jerks like myself. For what it's worth, you seem to be completely capable of cognitive thought and, based on the thumbnail provided by Yahoo, a reasonable looking gentleman."
Come over here, man, and let's cyber-hug it out. I appreciate the apology, and if there's any way you could have a talk with Jay from Wayne, that would be tremendous.
"I think you should do some DJ shots for Wayman Tisdale. As a Kansas fan, it's my sworn duty to dislike all Oklahoma and Missouri basketball players. But Tisdale was a classy guy, did things right, dominated the Big Eight, and became a renowned jazz musician. I saw him a couple weeks ago on a Chicago sports channel, and he still knew a little basketball as well. As much as it pains me to honor a Sooner, Wayman Tisdale was one guy who earned my respect. May he rest in peace, and be remembered by sports fans throughout the country."
Fort Wayne, Ind.
Amen. I learned about Tisdale's very legitimate musical skills while researching an article on sports, hip-hop and rock for Sports Illustrated, and I certainly remember his excellence as a basketball player. The man was far too young to go, and I hope he keeps slammin' and jammin' in the next place.