While the rest of the country is, to take a phrase from Pope Francis, “obsessed” with the fiscal farce in DC, President Obama has decided to weigh in on a major human rights violation. Three guesses as to what it is.
The massacre of Christians in the Muslim world? Yawn.
The death of hundreds of refugees off the coast of Sicily? Nope.
The devastation in Syria? (Been there, done that. Sort of.)
No, the president’s righteous indignation was reserved this week for the evil owners of a Washington football team that has apparently violated the Nuremberg rules and refused to change its name to “The Washington Non-Offensives.” Putting aside the fact that given their record this season, “no offense ... or defense” is actually quite fitting, Obama is as off-base as everyone else who’s been clamoring to eradicate the name “Redskins” for the past few years.
This is not a new controversy, as anyone who pays attention to this sort of thing already knows. But it’s taken on a new urgency, and now that the president has joined the “change the name” team it will no doubt occupy several news cycles and become the focus of an MSNBC prime time special blaming this, too, on the Republicans.
During an interview, Obama made sure to avoid criticizing the wonderful Redskin fans and their attachment to tradition, but stated that “I don’t know whether our attachment to a particular name should override the real legitimate concerns that people have about these things.” That’s a fair enough statement. But it’s helpful to examine just what type of a concern is “legitimate” enough to justify changing a name that approximately 70 percent of presumably non-racist football fans want to keep.
To my mind, just because a certain segment of the population is subjectively insulted by a particular phrase does not automatically mean that we throw away years of history (Sonny Jurgenson, George Allen, RFK Stadium) to make them feel better about themselves. Many have argued that the term “Redskin” is derogatory because it has a clear racial component. In this age where skin color is a touchy subject, you can understand that position. But according to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, the name was always meant to convey a positive message. Responding to a letter from Congress urging him to force the owners to change it, Goodell stated that “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.”
In the first place, it is amazing to me that with all of the other problems facing us, these 10 astute politicians had the time to write a “Dear Roger” letter about a football team. They, like our president, are such multi-taskers.
Beyond that, I think Goodell makes a good point, one that is understood by the vast majority of us who don’t want to slander a group of people (particularly one that was historically mistreated by our government) but who are frustrated at the hyper-sensitivity of our “no labels” society.
It is the 21st century, and we do need to evolve from that type of world where it was okay to use derogatory terms toward minorities. We all recall the historical, rhetorical abuse hurled at Italians and Asians and Poles and Irish and African-Americans over the years. It’s not pretty and when it’s used to wound, the words and their users must be shunned.
We are not, and should not be, proud of that heritage. And yet, there is something very wrong in having a knee-jerk reaction to the first cries of “you made me feel bad, stop it now!!!” It is the bullying of the bullied, the passive-aggressive modus operandi of a person or group that uses its sense of grievance to demand an apology for something that was never meant to be an insult in the first place. When no offense was intended, we should be very careful about legitimizing the pain of the so-called victim. I had the same reaction when the sandwich shop “Chink’s” was compelled to change a decades-old name because it offended the Asian population.
If we start down this road of eliminating from our culture all the discrete and disturbing things that could possibly upset this person or that one, we’ll get caught up in a web of details that — instead of liberating us from bigotry — will tie us up in a confused knot. We’ll be sentenced to a state of eternal correction. Every time someone says “I’m offended,” we’ll have to look at the world through her teary eyes and figure out how to neutralize her subjective pain, at our collective expense.
Maybe saving the name of a football team isn’t that important, particularly one with such a crummy record. On the other hand, maybe our culture warriors should be pickier in choosing their battles.
No pun, or offense, intended.
Distributed by MCT Information Services