Congressmembers, former FCC chair urge change in Redskins name. You okay with that?
I hate the Washington Redskins.
I didn’t used to. When I moved to Northern Virginia in 1988, I kind of liked them, for an NFC team. I didn’t like them as much as the 49ers and I certainly didn’t like them as much as the Jets. But I didn’t mind them and even rooted for them from time to time.
Then I moved to Washington, where the day before the baseball All-Star Game, the local NBC affiliate’s sports report consisted of speculation about Redskins camp, still more than a week away. Where we’d go to a refined champagne brunch and listen to a string quartet in the background, until they decided to play Hail to the Redskins and turn the place into a pep rally.
Where Sonny, Sam, and Frank, who collectively had more broadcasting ability than Harry Caray, were on the radio to root for the team, more than to call games. (In upstate New York–in the boonies where there was no cable, I watched network coverage of sports, and didn’t realize rooting for the team was part of the broadcasters’ job.)
While I lived in Virginia, there was periodic noise about how the team name was racist, and how that team, along with the Atlanta Braves, Cleveland Indians, Kansas City Chiefs, Golden State Warriors, Chicago Blackhawks, and others needed to change their names because they were offensive.
Lately, the naming controversy has picked up steam, as a group effort has tried to remove intellectual property protection from the team’s name. More recently, a former FCC chairman, Reed Hundt, has said that if he were still the chair, he’d consider calling broadcasters to Washington to urge them not to use the team name. The fact that the Federal Government holds the broadcasters’ licenses would be a little extra incentive, perhaps. Now ten members of Congress have urged that the team change its name.
Their reasoning is that the name’s a pejorative, an equivalent of a six-letter word that starts with N that isn’t used in conversation much any more.
Most Americans, and many native Americans, don’t mind the name much, but the efforts to change it have gotten play lately. The NCAA may have started the trend by encouraging member institutions to change their names. (Quite a number have over the years, including Stanford, Siena, Syracuse, St. Johns, and presumably a number of universities whose names don’t start with s.)
Incidentally, Florida State is not covered by any NCAA directives, because the Seminole nation has decided it likes the FSU name.
So the question arises again. When is something offensive enough to be done away with? And how should that happen?
Redskins owner Daniel Snyder–not one of the most loved owners in the world–has said he would never (and he emphasized you can capitalize the word NEVER) change the name. Reed Hundt doesn’t see the problem with applying subtle pressure from the body that holds broadcast licenses to help force the change.
Each year, lists emerge of the most challenged books in the country. The lists are typically at least partially ridiculous, including the Harry Potter series (the occult, you know), Huckleberry Finn (the n-word), and a number of others (sexual content and the like).
Many of the efforts at this kind of attempted censorship are met with ridicule and annoyance.
What about the Washington Redskins?
Clearly, some changed have been made over the years and life’s gone on. We don’t use the n-word any more. Most people don’t use the word retarded. Some people are trying to get us to think twice about using bitch. And it’s been a few years since a woman’s had her shirt ripped off at the Super Bowl halftime show. And a certain prophet’s image tends not to show up in cartoons these days.
When is offensive, offensive enough to merit change? And how should that change be implemented? Is it appropriate for the agency that holds broadcast licenses to hint that certain words shouldn’t be used?
Should artists be the ones who decide? Should the market decide? Are the cases in which the government decides?