I once frequented a bar where one of the regulars would always toast the Washington football team with its fight song before downing a shot: “Hail to the Redskins!” His girlfriend, a Dallas Cowboys fan, would without fail retort, “To hell with the Redskins!”
That happy couple is now the angel and devil resting on each of Redskins owner Dan Snyder’s shoulders, whispering conflicting advice into his ears. Snyder has so far stood up to those who want him to depart from a proud NFL tradition and change his team’s name. Hail to the Redskins! But deep down, he must wonder if the it’s worth the aggravation. To hell with the Redskins!
After all, the editorial page of Redskins’ hometown newspaper refuses to use the name. The Washington Post sports page has yet to follow suit, but give it time. The city’s mayor tries to avoid saying it. Members of Congress have hectored the team about changing its name, including a Republican from Oklahoma — a state named after a Choctaw phrase meaning “red person.”
Lawmakers have escalated from writing letters, which is what they do second-best, to screwing with the team’s trademark and tax-exempt status, which is what they do best.
Sportscasters who either decline to use the name or wish to pontificate about its political incorrectness at every opportunity are no longer limited to the insufferable Bob Costas. They now include Phil Simms and Tony Dungy (who has had his own run-ins with the PC police and should know better).
But as even some advocates of changing the name concede, the word “Redskin” has a “relatively innocuous history.” (See a longer treatment of this history by David Skinner.) It did not originate as a racial slur. It is not commonly used as one now, no matter how derogatory it sounds to white liberal ears. In any event, sports teams intend their names to be compliments, not insults.
As the popular hymn preaching racial unity went: “Jesus loves the little children/All the children of the world/Yellow, red, black and white, all are precious in His sight/Jesus loves the little children of the world.”
Public opinion has so far stubbornly resisted the media mob surrounding the Redskins. Most polling finds that few Americans, and particularly few Native Americans, find the name offensive. There is little evidence it offends many people who are not perpetually aggrieved, activists who are paid to take offense for a living, or people hoping to demonstrate their moral superiority over beer-swilling football fans.
Finally, the Redskins sports franchise has in recent years overcome some previous owners’ genuine racism and united black and white Washingtonians, elevated black quarterbacks and built a diverse fan base. A popular alternative name for the Redskins, the Redtails, is itself a tribute to proud warriors who happen to be nonwhite.
None of this matters, unfortunately. This being the America of 2014, only “Duck Dynasty” cast members can long survive political incorrectness. Snyder and the Redskins will eventually be beaten into submission. They will be sent to sensitivity training, asked to write large checks to American Indian charities as penance, maybe even forced to pay Michael Sam’s salary on the Dallas practice squad for good measure.
What matters, then, is negotiating the terms of surrender. Ideally, Snyder would be able to change the name from a position of strength. Robert Griffin III’s surgically repaired knee and a reloaded wide receiver corps would carry the Redskins to the playoffs, giving long-suffering fans something to cheer about before Snyder gently breaks the news that their team will henceforth be known as the Washington Pelosis.
Judging from Griffin’s tentative performance during preseason, however, there’s no guarantee this scenario will play out. It’s early, but Snyder would be wise to have a plan B.
The Redskins should take a page out of their tormentors’ playbook: they should approach Washington, the NFL, even Congress and shake them down.
Want us to change the team name? Fine, build us a new stadium (since one is already being planned). Schedule a Super Bowl there. Give us favorable PR. Praise our newfound sensitivity. Make it easier to charge usurious prices for bottled water even during losing seasons.
The NFL has already had one “bounty” scandal. Here’s a bounty that should be less scandalous.
Let’s not dignify the campaign to change the Redskins’ name as the plea for tolerance, respect and common decency proponents portray it as. While many well-meaning people have no doubt been deceived into supporting this crusade, it is mostly the work of cultural bullies who have no reciprocal respect for other people’s customs and traditions.
Hail to the new regime? To hell with it.
W. James Antle III is the editor of The Daily Caller News Foundation and author of the book Devouring Freedom: Can Big Government Ever Be Stopped? Follow him on Twitter.