Tuesday, November 21, 2017
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Jones: It's time to change Redskins' nickname

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This is a family newspaper that follows the rules of decorum, respect and good taste. • Nevertheless, I'm going to risk the reputation of this publication, my own personal reputation and, perhaps, my job by using a racial slur in today's column. Here goes: Today, the Bucs take on the Washington Redskins. • There it is. I said it. Redskins. • Then again, it must be okay because thousands upon thousands of Redskins fans say that the word is not offensive. And who would know better what is and what is not offensive to American Indians than a bunch of non-American Indians? • That's how it works, right? • A large segment of American Indians says it is offended by the name "Redskins,'' but if enough other people say they shouldn't be offended, well then, they shouldn't be offended. • And now I'll pause so Redskins fans fire up their computers to fire off hateful emails to protest this column as another example of the liberal media sticking its politically correct nose both in the air and into their business.

Never mind what is right or what is wrong. This isn't about what's PC. This controversy is no longer about Washington fans deciding what should and should not offend others. It's about digging in their heels. It's about no one, especially some outsider, telling them what their nickname should be.

Despite the nickname's intent to honor American Indians and its long association with one of the NFL's oldest franchises, you cannot get around this absolute fact: Many American Indians are offended by the name.

How many? Both sides of the issue can debate that using the various polls taken over the years. But even those who find no issue with the nickname must admit that the number of those offended is more than a handful, it's more that a couple hundred protestors. A few years back, Redskins owner Daniel Snyder pointed to a poll that was nearly a decade old saying nine of 10 American Indians didn't mind the name.

I'm not sure I buy those numbers, but for argument's sake, let's say the number is close to accurate. Is Snyder suggesting that offending 10 percent is not enough? Would 15 percent get him to change the name? How about 20 or 25? What number would it take?

No number, that's my guess. Snyder, too, is stubborn and has no intent on giving in. "NEVER — you can use caps,'' he once said.

Not because of his love for the name or his misguided attempt to honor a people who clearly would prefer not to be honored that way. It's because he's trying to save whatever sliver of reputation he still has among the fans who dislike him, but love his team.

Snyder has been a complete disaster as an owner. In his 16-plus seasons as Washington's owner, Snyder has overseen a revolving door of eight head coaches. The team has won one playoff game in 15 years. It has missed the playoff 12 times. It is awful, a league joke of incompetence, and that blame goes to Snyder. Because he can't satisfy the fan base with a winning product, he attempts to stay in their good graces by preserving the racist nickname.

Because of that blind ambition to have Washington fans embrace him in any way, Snyder is missing his chance to be a courageous leader of change. He can make a powerful statement by saying that while he loves the nickname, he understands it offends far too many to keep it. Why would he do that? Because it's the right thing to do.

Every time this topic comes up, Redskins fans roll their eyes and ask, "Why are we still talking about this?'' To which I say, "My sentiments exactly.''

Why are we still talking about this? This is such an easy fix. Change the name. What's the worst that would happen? Fans of Washington football are still going to be fans no matter what the team is called.

If it's so important to honor American Indians, find another way to do so. But suggesting that keeping the name is about tradition is the lamest excuse there is.

Times change. Words change. Feelings change. Just because something has always been done one way doesn't mean it should always be done that way. If that was the case, we would have separate water fountains and designated places to sit on busses. A Confederate flag sends a much different message now than it did 50 years ago.

Others talk about a slippery slope, that we could find offense in most nicknames. Religious groups might be offended by the New Jersey Devils. Vegans might be offended by the Green Bay Packers. Dogs could be offended by any cat nickname, like Tigers or Bengals or Lions.

Those are silly arguments. That's only a way to defend a stance that is, ultimately, indefensible. Clearly, there's a difference between Devils and a name such as Redskins and we all know it.

I ask Redskins fans to think about this scenario. An American Indian tells you he is offended by the nickname. He sees it as degrading and insulting. What do you tell him? That he is wrong? That he needs to get over it?

How about this? An expansion team is awarded to Los Angeles. You think it would be cool to call them the Darkskins to honor African-Americans? Of course not!

Other similar nicknames — Blackhawks, Indians, Seminoles — haven't received the same level of backlash and in some cases have been endorsed American Indians. Doesn't that speak volumes about the specific name of "Redskins"?

No matter how many news organizations decide to stop using the nickname, no matter how many protests are organized, no matter how many speak out, the debate will rage on. It doesn't appear that the name will change anytime soon.

That's too bad. That's too wrong.

I don't say that because the nickname offends me. I say that because I respect the thousands upon thousands of American Indians who are offended and insulted and degraded by the name.

After all, they know better than any of us.

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