June 12, 2013

NFL commissioner defends "Redskins" name

NFL Commissioner Tells Congress 'Redskins' Is a Positive NameAlthough Snyder has not responded to the Congress members, sticking to his "We will NEVER drop Redskins name" guns, NFL Commissioner Goodell has. In a letter dated June 5 and sent to the co-chairs of the Congressional Native American Caucus, Tom Cole (R-Oklahoma) and Betty McCollum (D-Minnesota), both of whom are among the 10 Congress members who sent the letter to Snyder and Goodell and cosponsors of the Non-Disparagement of Native American Persons or Peoples in Trademark Registration Act of 2013 (H.R. 1278), Goodell spelled out the NFL's position.

"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," writes Goodell. "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."
Translation: "Other than its long history as an offensive ethnic slur, 'Redskins' has a positive meaning for millions of fans who don't know or care about dictionary definitions."

Note: I may have paraphrased Goodell's position a bit. A simpler translation would be: "Our profits are more important than your feelings."

This trite and obvious response--that "Redskins" doesn't mean what you think it means--is easily refuted:

Congress Members Respond to NFL Commissioner's Support for 'Redskins' NameTwo members of Congress, Eni Faleomavaega (D-American Samoa) and Betty McCollum (D-Minnesota) have issued responses to the June 5 letter sent by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell regarding the league's position on the Washington, D.C. franchise's use of the name "Redskins." Goodell wrote in his letter that the term, considered offensive--racist--by many Native Americans, has a "positive meaning."

Congressman Faleomavaega responded to the letter with the following statement:

“Mr. Goodell has completely missed the point regarding the Washington franchise’s name. In his recent letter, he acknowledges the NFL’s ‘responsibility to exemplify […] values of diversity and inclusion.’ Yet in the same letter he fails to assume any responsibility for the racism that the Washington franchise’s name continues to promote. You cannot have it both ways. Whether good intentioned or not, the fact of the matter is that the term ‘Redskin’ is a racial slur that disparages Native Americans. It is time for the NFL to stop making excuses for itself and fully embrace its so-called commitment to diversity.”

Democratic Co-Chair of the Congressional Native American Caucus Congresswoman McCollum issued the following response:

“Unfortunately, NFL Commissioner Goodell’s letter is another attempt to justify a racial slur on behalf of Dan Snyder and other NFL owners who appear to be only concerned with earning ever larger profits, even if it means exploiting a racist stereotype of Native Americans. For the head of a multi-billion dollar sports league to embrace the twisted logic that ‘Redskin’ actually ‘stands for strength, courage, pride, and respect’ is a statement of absurdity.

“Would Roger Goodell and Dan Snyder actually travel to a Native American community and greet a group tribal members by saying, ‘Hey, what’s up redskin?’ I think not. (‘Hey, what’s up redskin’ is a quote from materials provided to my office by the NFL, along with the claim that ‘Redskins’ is a ‘term of endearment’ among Native Americans.)

“Indian children, families and elders are Americans, and just like all racial, ethnic, or religious groups, they deserve to be treated with respect and dignity, not as a demeaning caricature or mascot. That shouldn’t be too much to ask of the NFL.”
Gooddell added that it's okay to use the N-word too if you and your friends feel it's positive. Indeed, Goodell's "thinking" would justify a team named the Washington Niggers. It may be offensive in other contexts, but not as the name of an NFL team!

Who in the hell says the NFL gets to ignore "some other context" and focus only on its bubble of money, violence, and happy talk? Not me. The word is a slur by definition, which means it's a slur in every context. Goodell and owner Dan Snyder don't get to ignore some contexts just because these contexts paint the team in a negative light.

Calling a spin doctor

Clearly Snyder is getting worried, since he's bringing in the big guns:

Frank Luntz hired by Washington football team to convince people name isn’t horribly racist

Republican pollster hired by football team with disgusting name

By Alex Pareene
Luntz isn’t just going to get a feel for what people think of the name. Luntz’s specialty is crafting language to sell conservative policies or discredit liberal ones. You hire Luntz not to merely poll, but to figure out how best to sell people on something. It seems reasonable to assume that team owner Daniel Snyder, who has vowed to never change the name, is working now on how best to convince people that his team’s name is not a repellent racial epithet. Luntz’s specialty is renaming things to sound more appealing, but in this case he’ll be crafting the best possible language to use when explaining why something shouldn’t be renamed. (Luntz was reprimanded by American pollsters’ official professional association for his work on the 1994 GOP “Contract With America,” because he was suspiciously vague about how many people he actually polled after claiming that polls showed that Americans loved the contract.)

Luntz is actually fantastically good at his job—so good that he’s convinced quite a few seemingly intelligent liberals that Luntzian language-massaging is the secret behind all conservative electoral success—which is why he is basically Fox News and the House Republicans’ message-crafter-in-residence. He renamed the estate tax “the death tax.” He told the GOP to refer to Democratic healthcare reform as “a Washington takeover” and financial reform as a “big bank bailout bill.”
And:That Snyder is hiring Frank Luntz suggests a certain amount of concern that nationwide blasé acceptance of his team’s name may be coming to an end. He certainly didn’t seem to take criticisms particularly seriously before—his team’s P.R. desk has usually just pointed to a couple of polls and dismissed critics as unimportant—but now he is writing letters to Congress and working out a P.R. strategy. That’s good. It means he’s losing. But it doesn’t mean he’ll lose. The team has successfully fought public pressure for decades, and the NFL has other high-priority P.R. nightmares distracting it from taking the controversy seriously. And soon we’ll begin hearing some much more convincing arguments in favor of the name, courtesy of Luntz and whatever other high-priced professional spinners Snyder hires.The Redskins Try to Focus-Group Racism

By Jonathan MahlerQ. If you were the owner of a professional football team with a racist name from a bygone era, what would you do?

A. Acknowledge the name is offensive and rename the team.

B. Hire pollster Frank “It’s-Not-What-You-Say-It’s-What-They-Hear” Luntz to help you navigate your moral quandary?

If you're Dan Snyder, owner of the Washington Redskins, the answer is apparently B.
News flash: Luntz announces that "Redskins" comes from "reds' kin," meaning "blood brothers," meaning "mitakuye oyasin (we are all related)." Just kidding, I hope.

For more on the Washington Redskins, see White House Gets Redskins Question and Online Redskins Poll Demonstrates Bias.

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