Three months after forcefully defending the use of the nickname “Redskins” for Washington’s NFL team, commissioner Roger Goodell has opened the door to reconsidering whether the name should be used.
In a radio interview on Washington station WJFK-FM this past week, Goodell acknowledged the growing outcry of people who consider the term a slur against Native Americans.
“We need to do everything that’s necessary to make sure that we’re representing the franchise in a positive way,” said Goodell, who has softened his stance after writing a strongly worded letter to Congress defending the nickname.
“If we are offending one person,” said Goodell, “we need to be listening and making sure that we’re doing the right things to try to address that.”
The fact is the name offends more than one person. It offends an untold number of people who deplore the racist connotation of the nickname, to the point that even Goodell is beginning to change his mind on the issue.
It is a meaningful turnaround, perhaps signifying a momentum shift that ultimately will sway team owner Daniel Snyder to come off his unyielding stance about keeping the name.
Just a few months ago, in a letter to Congress responding to a call from legislators to force the team to drop its current nickname, here’s what Goodell said: “The Washington Redskins name has thus from its origin represented a positive meaning distinct from any disparagement that could be viewed in some other context. For the team’s millions of fans and customers, who represent one of America’s most ethnically and geographically diverse fan bases, the name is a unifying force that stands for strength, courage, pride and respect.”
But after hearing a growing number of protests from Native American groups and others who are simply offended by the negative connotation of the nickname, Goodell clearly is rethinking his position, and further prying open the door for others to continue pushing for a change. It ultimately could force Snyder to acquiesce to the calls for change. And it’s time for him to make that change.
Say what you will about the long-standing tradition of the Washington franchise, one of the NFL’s flagship organizations steeped in history. But if the nickname is offensive to Native Americans -- and they have every right to be insulted because of the negative connotations the word produces -- Snyder must do the right thing and remove it. Even though Snyder himself doesn’t consider it offensive -- he has said he will never, under any circumstances, make a change -- there are people who are hurt by it. And if people are offended by the nickname, then it is by definition offensive. As would be the case with any ethnic or religious group feeling hurt by a comparable slur.
Think of any nationality, any religion, any race. Irish. Italian. Polish. African-American. Asian. Hispanic. Jewish. Catholic. Muslim. For each, there are hurtful and hateful words associated with them. For Native Americans, “Redskins” is that word. The highest officer in the game of football now understands, and that’s why Goodell’s change of heart should be mirrored by the only man who is in a position to make a change.
Snyder no longer can ignore the outrage. He should do what former Washington Bullets owner Abe Pollin did in 1996, when he changed the nickname of the team to the Wizards because of the negative connotations associated with the term “bullets,” especially in a city with a high murder rate. It was a bold, yet sensible and sensitive, move by a respected owner who couldn’t justify the continuation of a nickname that simply wasn’t necessary.
Now it’s time for Snyder to do the decent thing and make the change.
Contact Bob Glauber at email@example.com.