As a joint celebration of the NFL’s Salute to Service month and Native American Heritage month, the Washington Redskins recognized four members of the Navajo Code Talkers Association.
The code talkers were a group of Native American service members who transmitted secret communications beginning in World War II.
Four representatives — Navajo Code Talkers Association President Peter MacDonald Sr., Vice President Roy Hawthorne and members George James Sr. and George Boyd Willie Sr. — were recognized during a commercial break during the first quarter of theRedskins’ game vs. the San Francisco 49ers. They stood in the end zone nearest the tunnel that leads to the Redskins’ locker room and received a round of applause while a video tribute to the code talkers played.
The Redskins have received criticism over their stance that their team name should not be changed despite requests from groups, including Native American tribes. The four Native Americans wore Redskins jackets along with their military hats.
There’s something very wrong with a society that obsesses over the nickname of a professional football franchise but sees nothing wrong with the everyday use of the word “retard.”
Since the new NFL season started, I’ve seen lots of wailing and gnashing of teeth over whether the Washington Redskins should change their name. Neil Irwin of The Washington Post described it as “the most patently offensive name in pro sports” andPresident Obama also came out in favor of a name change.
Columbus Day Weekend stirred the pot (because, contrary to what I was taught in grade school, Columbus is a controversial figure) so NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell weighed in on Sunday night, as did NBC Sports’ Bob Costas, who devoted almost two and a half minutes of halftime to the “controversy” (along with a shameless plug for NBC Sports’ dedicated Redskins name website).
Some of the debate centers around the meaning of the name – is it a slur, or a term of honor? – and there have been a lot of people asking, “What if it was the slur for X, Y, or Z groups instead?” That question is (at best) an imperfect analogy because clearly the original intent for choosing the nickname was to rally the fans and call to mind a brave warrior, not to disparage an ethnic group. But is that defense good enough?
Frankly, I don’t give a damn.
While a bunch of predominantly white male sportswriters are wringing their hands over the nickname — and note that many are intentionally choosing to omit the word in their reporting — columnist Maureen Dowd of The New York Times is also voicing her disdain for the name by stating that “The term ‘redskin’ is never a compliment.” Many Native Americans would disagree.
But do you know what word is truly never, under any circumstances, a compliment?Retard.
Unlike the Redskins, no sports teams have chosen retard as their nickname, either. Spend a little while cruising social media and the comboxes of some of the news stories and blog posts about the Redskins’ name, however, and you’ll find plenty of folks who feel no qualms about calling one side or the other in the debate “retarded” or “retard.”
Can you say “tone-deaf”?
When sportswriters and journalists start giving a damn about the pervasive use in all of our society — not just within the confines of a single football franchise — of the REAL r-word, then I’ll start caring about the Washington Redskins’ mascot.
Until that day comes, the only thing I’ll worry about is whether the Saints finish ahead of them in the NFC postseason.
Make no mistake, the historical treatment of Native American peoples has been shameful and abhorrent. Language is powerful, but I believe the current obsession with the Redskins’ name is a lot of self-righteous posturing that’ll accomplish very little in the end — regardless of whether the name is changed — because “redskin” isn’t part of most people’s vernacular today in any context other than football. Meanwhile, the intellectual disability community’s pleas for elimination of the r-word continue to fall on deaf ears.