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Why Republicans Protect the ‘Honor’ of Offensive Team Names

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Posted on Jan 14, 2014

By Jeremiah Goulka

Keith Allison (CC-BY-SA)

This article was produced and published by TomDispatch.

Every once in a while a small controversy comes along that helps explain a big problem.  This National Football League season has provided such a controversy.  The name of Washington D.C.‘s football team, the Redskins, is under fire.  “Redskins” is an offensive term and therefore inappropriate for the team representing our nation’s capital.  That’s kind of obvious, right?

Most Republicans don’t think so.  They defend the name, as they do other Native American-based team names, such as the college football champion Florida State Seminoles, calling them tokens of “honor.”  They claim that the names celebrate a “heritage” and “tradition” of “bravery” and “warrior-spirit,” and they publicly wonder: What’s the problem?

The Onion, that fine news source, captured it in one neat, snide sentence: “A new study… confirmed that the name of the Washington Redskins is only offensive if you take any amount of time whatsoever to think about its actual meaning.”  So what’s keeping Republicans from thinking about it?

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For one thing, Republicans tend to wear a set of blinders, crafted and actively maintained by the party’s functionaries and its media priesthood.  They also suffer from mental roadblocks shared by American whites more generally, including a thin, often myth-based “knowledge” about Native Americans.  Collectively, all of this blinds Republicans to what it’s like to be on the receiving end of power at home and abroad.

That said, the GOP’s power brokers know the party is facing a demographic time bomb, so why do they let their media minions form an offensive line to protect the Redskins name?  Nationally, the Republicans’ short-term hopes and long-term survival may hinge on whether they can manage to make the party welcoming to non-whites.  Yet they proudly wear these blinders, as I once did, continuing to “honor” American Indians—as they never would a team called the Whiteskins, the Brownskins, the Blackskins, or the Yellowskins.  Here’s a little breakdown on why.

Republican Blinders

Blinder 1: Intent Is Everything

As I have written previously, Republicans have a convenient belief that when it comes to racism, it’s all about intent.  With the Redskins name, this is a particularly powerful blinder because, as one sportscaster said, “I strongly believe that there is zero intent to offend Native Americans among Redskins fans or football fans in general.” 

In the words of a National Review writer, “No one picks a team name as a means of disparagement.”  Similarly, Human Events columnist John Hayward claimed that “[n]obody names their football team the Losers or the Wimps.”  Again and again, Republicans in the media sound this chord, effectively saying that if there is no intent to harm, then there’s no foul.

Blinder 2: The Messengers

A big reason why conservatives don’t like change is the people who push for it.  Just look at who’s complaining about the Redskins name.

There are Native Americans protesting the name, like the Oneida Tribe’s “Change the Mascot” campaign.  To a Republican, that means this is, ipso facto, the usual, tedious, “race-card” stuff and another instance of the obsession with identity and victimization.  In my Republican days, I would have asked, “Can’t you Indians or Native Americans or whatever you want to be called these days see that making your group identity the most important part of your existence denies your individuality?  You sink or swim on your own in our meritocracy.  How can you thrive if your mind’s on the reservation?”  (Not that I knew any Native Americans to ask, of course.)

Then there are the cadres of academics (liberals!), foaming at the mouth about “narratives” and “oppression,” glorifying relativism, preaching white guilt and feel-bad history, and denying Objective Truth.  The American Psychological Association says that such team names promote negative stereotypes, making little Indian kids feel bad about themselves.  Boo hoo!

There are also the activists, those unwashed Occupy longhairs who get off on feeling offended for other people, “fabricat[ing] outrage,” creating a “manufactured controversy.”

There’s the feared “Liberal Media.”  A handful of newspapers, the alternative rag Washington City Paper, and several liberal outlets like Slate, the New Republic, and Mother Jones now refuse to use the Redskins name, instead inelegantly referring to “Washington’s football team.”  Most don’t even cover sports, but they can’t miss a chance to pontificate!

Singled out for the most angst was sportscaster Bob Costas—for speaking out against the name during a Sunday Night Football broadcast.  Glenn Beck’s response was to call him “senile” and a “sanctimonious piece of crap.”

And then there are the politicians.  Guess which team’s jersey they’re wearing?  There’s the Washington city council (no Republicans there, of course!) getting all righteous with a unanimous resolution urging that the team be renamed something non-offensive.  There are Democrats in Congress lining up to do their bit by pushing a bill to strip the very right of a team to trademark its name if it’s offensive to Indians!

Worst of all is the “Trinity of Evil,” the “Socialist Trifecta”: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, and above all President Obama.  They’ve all come out against the Redskins name.

See a common thread here? Democrats. Liberals. Progressives. Minorities. The Left.

The other team.

These messengers could say that the sky is blue, and the natural Republican inclination would be to think that they were lying for partisan gain. The Enemy is relentless, implacable, and vast. It must be stopped.


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