No matter what Dan Snyder says about tradition, there is no strong argument as to why Washington’s football team should not change its undeniably derogatory name — just as there’s no place for an out-of-touch, racist owner in the NBA, or a homophobic head of a corporation like Mozilla.
But the recent push for the Redskins to drop their name represents a growing trend in the way change works, spurred on quickly and effectively by the court of public opinion.
The Redskins are in the news for two reasons right now: former NFL referee Mike Carey revealed he purposely refused to work any Washington games since the 2006-07 season and Mike Ditka called the name change argument “so stupid it’s appalling.” The two represent opposite sides of the argument, with Carey believing the name has long been offensive and Ditka believing the name is inseparable from the football team.
Both viewpoints have some merit. Native Americans have an embarrassingly long history of oppression in the United States. Studies have also been done that show the majority of Native Americans do not find the name offensive or event want it to be changed (numbers vary depending on the poll, but have ranged from 67% to 90%). Many — including those in D.C. — also say that the name change would not affect their support of the team in general.
A strange phenomenon has been that many of those calling for the removal of the Redskins name and logo are both non-Native American and unconnected to the Redskins football program. Perhaps that is a good thing, as historically marginalized populations are being given a voice by the populace that has long been denied to them by those in power. It also represents just how strong the public has become, and how swiftly and effectively an idea can spread throughout public consciousness and spur action.
The Redskins name has been a point of contention for decades, but support for a change has been significantly amped up in recent years (and, now, recent weeks). The Washington Post has been publishing several articles regarding the issue, and two broadcast analysts — CBS’s Phil Simms and NBC’s Tony Dungy — announced separately that they would refuse to refer to the D.C. football team as anything but “Washington."
Donald Sterling was reviled by fans and players for years for his disgustingly outdated outlook on the world, but all it was one recorded conversation and the anger of the Internet to have the owner ousted from his business in a matter of days. Most rational people do not have a problem with Sterling losing the Clippers and being banned from the NBA. He deserves it. It’s the principle of the way in which it was handled that is somewhat alarming.
The Internet has certainly served as a tool for rapid, monumental change on all levels — from the toppling of governments in the Middle East to the sudden outpouring (pun slightly intended) of support for ALS research. Social media has played an integral role in connecting and energizing the masses to actually accomplish things that in the past would have taken much longer to achieve. In many instances this is positive, and in some cases it leads to the rapid ascent of groups like ISIS. The pace at which change now happens is great as long as it helps marginalized or oppressed groups rise above abuse, but it should be watched with a careful eye in order to ensure that the scale doesn’t tip the other direction.
It won’t be surprising if the Redskins are forced to change their name by the end of the 2014-15 season. When the court of public opinion makes its decision, the punishment is soon to follow.