In 1960, with segregation still alive in the South, four African-American students in Greensboro, N.C., were refused service from Woolworth’s after sitting at a whites-only counter and attempting to order lunch. Rather than leave, they quietly remained in their seats until the store closed.
More than a dozen showed up the next day with the same intentions, were given the same treatment and had the same response. Within a few days, they were joined by hundreds more and white people sympathetic to their cause. For months, groups formed across the south for similar non-violent protests.
People who for years didn’t have a voice realized they could deliver their message to others who ignored them. They gathered en masse and boycotted segregated businesses until owners succumbed to financial pressure. Only then did a civil-rights movement, glacial for decades, begin gaining momentum.
You would think Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder is familiar with that slice of American history, especially when his fan base comes from the nation’s capital and places such a strong emphasis on its past. Ignoring public pressure, he has defiantly refused to change the name of his football team.
Let’s get something straight: Snyder has every right to keep the nickname no matter how much Native Americans are offended. He can continue rationalizing that the name was born as a tribute to Native Americans. He can continue presenting language experts to testify why it’s not insulting.
Snyder has options, just like white business owners were within the law not to serve blacks some 50 years ago, but he should also know he’ll ultimately lose one way or another and wind up hurting himself. The Redskins losing their trademark rights in a federal ruling handed down this week was only the beginning.
The franchise retains its rights while the case is under appeal. In other words, merchandising companies still need permission to use the name and logo on their items. The last time Snyder was in this position, he won the case on appeal and came away more empowered. It could happen again.
Snyder can keep kicking and screaming and saying he would “never” change the nickname, but eventually the name will be changed. When? Well, that depends on how quickly people assemble and deliver their message. For now, with money pouring into his organization, he’s conducting business as usual.
Understand, for my taste, our country has become oversensitive and too politically correct. The media in particular is ready to pounce on anything that approaches an ambiguous line defining acceptable language or behavior. Freedom of speech seems more limited than any period in my lifetime.
And we’re talking about the nickname of a football team that’s been around for more than 75 years. Is it really a big deal, you ask? Yes.
The difference with the Redskins is that the name doesn’t approach the line, or straddle the line, of acceptance. It’s a slur, a mile over the line. No matter how long the name wasn’t considered offensive, a growing population in addition to Native Americans now believe otherwise.
Once was a time in which white people tossed around the N-word with disturbing ease. It remains an issue these days among black people using the word. In my lifetime, “negro” and “colored” were part of the vernacular before they were replaced by “black” and, as preferred today, “African-American.” We evolve. We change with the times.
The Wizards were known as the “Bullets” before it was changed in response to complaints about a perceived connection between the NBA team and a region riddled with violent crime. Some have suggested the Redskins could be called the “Pigskins,” combining football with a shout-out to their famed offensive line known as the “Hogs.” Another is “Warriors” as a tribute to the U.S. military.
This should be an easy fix.
Other than financial, and that’s open to debate, there appears to be little benefit of keeping Redskins. Fans support the franchise because of football and communal reasons, not because of their nickname.
Snyder is so worried about the name change costing him money that he hasn’t realized he could wind up making more if he became a good guy in this argument. Rather than empathize with the masses, he comes off like another billionaire who doesn’t appreciate being told how to run his business.
He shouldn’t change the name because someone else said he should. He should change the name simply because it’s the right decision. It’s really not that difficult to comprehend, even for the incurably stubborn. But at this point, you wonder if his accountant is the only person who can get his attention.
The more he stays firm in his position, the larger the crowd against him and the more intense the pressure on him to buckle. His critics would retreat if they thought he would make the change on his own, but he has shown no signs of backing down. We know he should, but why would he?
Washington has loyal fans and a strong season-ticket base. Many support Snyder for staying true to his position. No major sponsors have threatened to pull advertising that drives the money machine. It’s not going to change until corporate support disappears. It’s not going anywhere unless there’s outrage from customers.
And that’s where everyday people can make a difference. When voices are unheard, money always talks. History has shown it’s the one thing that speaks loudly enough for minorities to grab a seat at the table.