Politics and the Washington Redskins

  • Article by: EDITORIAL , Washington Post
  • Updated: August 14, 2014 - 6:39 PM

Virginia governor could have been part of a growing movement seeking a name change.

Daniel Snyder, among the nation’s most obstinate sports team owners, has recently been dealt a series of blows. First was the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s June cancellation of the Washington Redskins’ trademark registration because of its disparagement of Native Americans. A few weeks later came the refusal by a Maryland federal court judge to use the team’s name in court documents.

Last week was the University of Minnesota’s announcement that it, too, won’t use the name when the team plays at the school in November. Meanwhile, more voices have emerged against Snyder, including former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the granddaughter of the original team owner.

Earlier this month, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe could have joined Clinton, President Obama and 50 members of the U.S. Senate — as well as his neighbor Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley — in asking Snyder to change his mind. He refused.

“Listen, I’ve continuously said it is not up to a governor to tell a private business what to do with their business,” McAuliffe said during a visit to the team’s training camp. “I’m about growing our economy, diversifying our economy. I’m not in the business of telling private businesses what to do.”

If his self-censorship is genuine, McAuliffe must have had a huge change of heart. Last fall, McAuliffe condemned the planting of a Confederate flag on private land. Yet 10 months later, he insists that he cannot tell a private business to remove an offensive word emblazoned on its uniforms. There are scant differences between the two scenarios except for the politics: Two-thirds of Virginians support keeping the Redskins’ name, while cultural and demographic evolutions have made criticizing Confederate flags politically safe, as a George Mason University professor said.

McAuliffe’s emphasis on dubbing himself Virginia’s “chief jobs creation officer” suggests that he cannot be anything else. But, like most leaders across the country, he can be both a proponent of economic growth and an advocate of basic decency. If anything, the importance of the team to Virginia should compel McAuliffe to speak out in favor of change. He wouldn’t be breaking new ground, either; other leaders have done that for him.

Activist Suzan Shown Harjo wrote in Politico that the term “red skins” refers to the bloody skin that was delivered as “proof” of an “Indian kill” for bounties in early America. It is, she added, the “worst word that is used about us in the English language.”

If a team name included a racial slur against Asians or African Americans, McAuliffe probably wouldn’t hesitate to condemn it. He has no conscionable reason to defend this one.


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