The name of the Washington professional football organization — that would be "Redskins," for those of you coming to the story late — continues to provoke ire amongst those who believe it is disrespectful, outdated and/or classless. But since it's clear that team owner Daniel Snyder has no intention of changing the team name, opponents of the burgundy-and-gold squad have decided to use other ways of protesting the team's name.
Several publications have stopped using the name "Redskins" altogether in their coverage of the team. Add Slate to that number, as the website announced it will no longer use the name in an article entitled "The Washington ________."
The article is lengthy but well worth a read; writer David Plotz threads the rhetorical needle, acknowledging both the team's history as well as the outdated nature of the name. Opponents of a name change should take the time to actually read the article before mounting a HELL NO! HAIL TO THE REDSKINS! counterattack. (We write that knowing that there's a measurable segment of the Redskins audience, including Snyder himself, who staunchly refuse to acknowledge any view but their own.)
The "redskin" name, Plotz notes, was not originally a racist designation, but instead honored and connoted bravery. "But time passes," he continues, "the world changes, and all of a sudden a well-intentioned symbol is an embarrassment. Here’s a quick thought experiment: Would any team, naming itself today, choose 'Redskins' or adopt the team’s Indian-head logo? Of course it wouldn’t."
Plotz doesn't scream about some elitist white-privilege patriarchal racist agenda; his approach is more subtle. The Redskins name, he argues, is an embarrassment: "So while the name Redskins is only a bit offensive, it’s extremely tacky and dated—like an old aunt who still talks about 'colored people' or limps her wrist to suggest someone’s gay."
Slate acknowledges that it has little reason to cover the Redskins, but that's not really the point. The Washington City Paper and the Kansas City Star, as well as several notable sportswriters across the country, have halted their use of the name. And while one general-interest magazine changing its policy may not change history, it's part of a trend: "Changing how you talk changes how you think. The adoption of the term “African-American”—replacing “Negro” and “colored”—in the aftermath of the civil rights movement brought a welcome symmetry with Italian-Americans and Irish-Americans, groups defined by geographic origin rather than by race or color. Replacing “same-sex marriage” with “marriage equality” helped make gay marriage a universal cause rather than a special pleading. If Slate can do a small part to change the way people talk about the team, that will be enough."
A little sanctimonious and self-righteous? Sure. But it's a conversation worth continuing. Sports and politics aren't separate, no matter what some sports fans would wish. Sports is a reflection, and microcosm, of society, in all its messy and contradictory and frustrating glory. To pretend that changes happening in society aren't also happening in sports is like expecting your team is going to keep on winning (or losing) forever. The only constant is change.
Oh, and for the record: Yahoo! Sports will continue to use "Redskins," though the name may be preceded by a hateful adjective or two if they've beaten one of our favorite teams that week.
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