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Political Correctness in the Heart of American Politics

November 5, 2013

Amy Whitehouse ’15

Social justice and sports are not often associated with one another.  Despite their seemingly separate entities, a heated debate has ensued right in our nation’s capital.  The National Football League (NFL) is the world’s most lucrative sports organization, enjoying extensive success and influence in American culture.  The Washington Redskins are no exception to this, as they are valued at over 1.7 billion dollars.

The Redskins have been in the spotlight recently, especially this past week, for something unrelated to the team’s performance. The team’s name and mascot, has been increasingly petitioned to be changed to something less offensive.  “Redskin” is defined in the dictionary as a derogatory term used to describe an American Indian.   For this reason, over two thirds of sports organizations from high school to professional levels have dropped American Indian mascots.

The crusade against the Washington D.C. team has been spearheaded by several American Indian activists who have effectively turned the issue into a national conversation.  President Obama, a self-declared sports fan, recently weighed in, saying that if he were the owner of the team, he would seriously consider changing the mascot.  Onenida Nation Chief Operating Officer Peter Carmen explains that the “r word” has “destructive effects on native peoples” and the NFL team’s use of it “promotes a racially-defined slur”.  As long-time American Indian activist Suzan Shown Harko points out, this change will not come easily,

“You’re not just dealing with the one Washington team” she explains to The New York Times, “It’s one monolith after another laden with money and the power it represents”.

Some of the press has even taken a stance on the subject.  This week the major west-coast newspaper The Sanfransisco Chronicle has decided to drop its use of the name, and will refer to the team as “Washington”.  The newspaper says the decision is in conjunction with its policy of not using racial slurs.  The Chronicle aligned with several other publications such as Slate, Mother Jones, and The Kansas City Star.

One man with the money and the power to do so remains the major defender of the Redskins name and mascot.  Owner Daniel Snyder has continually and publically spoken out about his vow to keep the name, calling it “a badge of honor” for the team.

This past week, the debate has continued to progress.  On this past Wednesday, Snyder met with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to discuss the issue.   Snyder did this just one day before a scheduled meeting between American Indian representatives, and Goodell and his staff.  Snyder claimed to be “traveling” and unable to attend Thursday’s meeting.

On Thursday, several leaders from Onedia Nation met with NFL executives to request NFL-issued sanctions against Snyder for conduct detrimental to the league.   Ray Halbritter, an Oneida representative, said he and his group were disappointed by the NFL’s defense of the use of the name.  The NFL issued a statement saying they listened respectfully and discussed the views of Onedia Nation, and “the meeting was part of an ongoing dialogue to facilitate listening and learning” – Though the NFL may be learning Snyder is unwilling to compromise.

As the protests grow louder it will be interesting to see how many people need to be moved by offense for any action to be taken, by either the NFL or the Redskins franchise.  Washington, D.C. is at the heart of our country’s policy making.  How important is political correctness in the home of politics?  Native Americans are often an uncounted minority in this country, and many people’s exposure to Native Americans is what they see in the media.  Redskin’s advertisements, jerseys, and other paraphernalia adorned with the fierce American Indian mascot paints a very specific portrayal of the diverse conglomerate of tribes.  Arguments are being made on both sides of the issue.  Petitions have been drawn, and even a statement by the President himself.  Though federal legislation will probably not be the determinant in resolving this, the issue is important in forming America’s larger identity.

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