Once again calls for the change of the Washington Redskins’ name are making headlines. President Obama said in the Associated Press interview excerpted below—which has 37 likes and 92 dislikes on YouTube as we go to print, by the way—that if he “were the owner of the team” and he “knew that the name of my team, even if they’ve had a storied history, was offending a sizeable group of people,” he’d “think about changing it.”
Most articles criticizing controversy over the Redskin disavow the obviously “P.C.” rhetoric bound up in all of this, at times even resorting to the reductio ad absurdum to prove the point. It’s fairly easy to come up with names and mascots that could offend certain groups, that is, if the groups felt like taking offense and organizing as a result in protest.
But the argument over whether people should or should not be offended by something is altogether boring, and the best that comes of it are “he said, she said” playground retorts. The pressing questions are: Should something done about it, and if so, where does the onus lie?
The Associated Press conducted a poll on this question back in May and found that “79 percent favor keeping the name,” although this represented a 10 percent drop since the question was last asked in 1992. This indicates that an overwhelming majority of Americans still favor keeping the name—though this result should be expected.
The poll that should really be conducted, however unfeasible it might be, is one exploring how many of Native American descent find the name offensive.
But for argument’s sake let’s say the margin were slimmer among Americans as a whole. Whose job would it be to do something about it? It seems that Barack Obama thinks it’s his.
Obama’s statement to the Associated Press is dripping with disingenuousness: “If I were the owner I would do this or that.” Fact: Barack Obama does not the own the Redskins. Fact: The Redskins are a privately owned organization with the right to brand itself and keep its brand. Fact: If an overwhelming majority of fans really find the name “Redskins” hateful they may boycott the organization and hit them where it hurts: the wallet. Fact: If the word “Redskins” is really hate speech and “the Native American equivalent of the n-word” as many have stated in one place or another, then Barack Obama should not be using it in a sentence as he loosely did in the interview.
But irrespective of whether something should or should not be done about the name, it certainly isn’t the federal government’s place to apply public pressure to privately owned and run organizations to make them succumb to or fall in line with its worldview.
The federal government should not be lobbying or inveighing against the names of privately owned corporations, which the Redskins are. Let the people decide for themselves, not straw-grasping politicians looking to be re-elected.
ESPN noted in its report on the matter that:
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said last month that the league should pay attention to those offended by the name—a subtle change in position for Goodell, who had more strongly supported the name in his previous statements this year.
Let it be known that Roger Goodell is a businessman and the caretaker of a multi-billion dollar brand, not a philanthropist. If he’s making subtle changes in his stance, it’s because he regards negative comments by people in positions of power, like the president, as threats to the NFL brand as a whole.
In other words, the more the name “Redskins” is seen as hate speech and causing racial division, the more Goodell is likely to care, but primarily because the NFL’s involvement in “hate perception” means bad business; his personal leanings on the matter don’t have play, but the president’s do—and the wider he opens this Pandora’s Box, the more likely it will affect the NFL and the Redskins financially.
And so, the generic type of question that is asked whenever this discussion comes up— “doesn’t the president have bigger fish to fry”—doesn’t really strike at the heart of the matter. Underlying that thinking is the idea that this issue is a little fish that the president, or any government official, should think about frying in the first place.
To the contrary, this isn’t a fish for them to fry at all.
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