Dan Snyder has spoken, and now it’s time to shut him up.
The Washington NFL owner has been quite clear on his intention “NEVER” (his caps) to change the name of his football team, no matter how offensive it may be. It seems “tradition” – the ability to make money off a racist appellation – and “name recognition” – also the chance to make money – are more important to him than respecting the dignity of those people he chooses to abase with his franchise’s derogatory designation.
It’s a free country, so Snyder can be as offensive as he wants to be. (Although it would be fun to sit in a room with him and offer suggestions for team nicknames that he might not find so tradition-bound and recognizable.) And since NFL commissioner Roger Goodell lacks the influence or fortitude to stand up to one of his employers and offer some strong arguments against the use of Washington’s reference, it is up to the media to handle this.
Simply put, it’s time to stop referring to Washington’s team by its racist name. Last year, the Kansas City Star made headlines by refusing to print the word, except when included in a wire service article. Even then, the paper reserved the right to remove the name. If there were any other ethnic or racial group that had a hateful reference to it celebrated by a professional sports league, it would scream until the designation was changed – and rightly so. But because the Native American lobby isn’t as strong as others, it lacks the influence to force a change. Snyder’s defiance, though within his right as an American business owner, reflects his commitment to prosperity, instead of doing what’s right. There is no argument that can be made that justifies the use of Washington’s spiteful appellation. None. Falling back on words like “tradition” masks the real story here: Snyder is afraid that changing the name will hurt the value of his franchise and take money from his pocket by potentially lowering merchandise and sponsorship sales.
The most surprising thing about this is that the NFL, which is trying to burnish its image by instituting rules and programs designed to improve the health of its players, is so tone deaf to this issue. It’s as if Goodell, Snyder and the rest of the billionaires who own the franchises are trying to make a stand against politically correct bullying and therefore refuse to do what’s right. Native Americans have been protesting this name since it was adopted in 1933, an 80-year burst of futility that needs to be rewarded with some recognition by those who cover the team.
Since Snyder won’t budge, it’s up to the media to stop giving his brand the millions in free advertising it receives. Newspapers should refer to the team solely as “Washington” or “D.C.” The same goes for radio stations, magazines, on-line sites and social media outlets. It’s going to be hard to get TV on board, because as broadcast partners of the NFL, networks are wary of upsetting the most powerful entity in the American (and perhaps the global) sporting realm. Networks are motivated by profit, and angering the NFL by refusing to give one of its franchises sufficient promotional push could result in the loss of broadcast rights down the road. Expecting ESPN, Fox, CBS or NBC to stop using the word is unrealistic, because they fear the NFL’s wrath in future negotiations.
Other media outlets have the chance to take a stand, and they should do it. This is not a capitulation. It is a chance to show that the media knows the difference between right and wrong and is capable of doing right, even when it’s unpopular. Several colleges have changed their names from Native American appellations that were offensive, and those that continue to sport tribal nicknames (Florida State Seminoles, Illinois Fighting Illini, etc.) reach out to the nations they represent to make sure they are not insulting. That said, the Tomahawk Chop remains repugnant and should not be encouraged, either.
Snyder’s defiance is the result of a large supply of cash that enables him to dismiss critics with an aggressive statement of purpose and withstand fallout because he knows he has a brand that resonates with millions of fans who don’t want it changed, no matter how distasteful it may be. Since he refuses to be a good corporate citizen and a responsible human being capable of displaying a shred of decency, the media must ride to the rescue. From now on, the name of the team is Washington, period. Take a stand and show Snyder what courage, commitment and character look like. It’s unlikely he’ll recognize them or understand them, but perhaps constant exposure might show him the way.
Be strong. End the racism.
Next up: the Cleveland Major League Baseball team.
And the Chicago NHL team.
Michael Bradley is a writer, broadcaster and teacher headquartered in suburban Philadelphia. His written work has appeared in Sporting News, ESPN the Magazine, Athlon Sports, Hoop and Slam, among others. He is a host on 97.5 the Fanatic in Philadelphia and contributes analysis for Yahoo! Sports Radio and Sirius Mad Dog Radio. He appears on CSNPhilly.com, writes a weekly column on Philadelphia Magazine’s “Philly Post” and has authored 26 books. He teaches sports journalism at Saint Joseph’s, Villanova and Neumann Universities.