Thursday, June 13, 2013

On the Undue Vitriol and Overreaction Towards the Redskins' Name

Roger Goodell’s letter to Congress defending the Redskins’ team name, saying that the name is a “unifying force that stands for courage, strength, pride, and respect," was lambasted by the media yesterday. The columnists represented at ESPN's "Around the Horn" show, as well as DC-area journalists Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon on "Pardon the Interruption" were especially pointed in their remarks (discussions start at roughly the 13:00 mark and the 5:00 mark, respectively). Goodell was labeled a "fool" and "gutless," and accused of not doing his homework for daring to side with the money-seeking franchise and kowtowing to the owners who hired him. Okay, that money-seeking part might actually be true. Just maybe.

The movement to change the team name was started by a letter sent from 10 members of the Congressional Native American Caucus (a collection of 100-plus members of Congress, from a House of Representatives containing 435 members) to owner Dan Snyder, urging him to change the name, citing the hateful origin of the name and the persistent caustic nature of this word to Native Americans: a "racial, derogatory slur akin to the ‘N-word’ among African Americans or the ‘W-word’ among Latinos." That's a fair assessment.

In fact, it's extremely hard to build a case for George Preston Marshall, the owner of the franchise from 1932 to 1969, and bestower of this name. His remark, shown at the top of Dave Zirin's open letter to Dan Snyder calling for the owner to accept his era of change and rename his team, is quite disturbing. As one wanders across the Internet, Marshall's "insight" on integration and other racist statements he uttered are too disgusting to be reprinted here; Marshall is probably the least innocent party in this whole saga. However, none of that malice remains today, nor has it been present for years.

Bob Ryan's remark on Around the Horn while "selling" Goodell's letter--"What is true in 1937 is not true in 2013"--definitely has more than one meaning. Marshall's intended use of the name (he claimed it was a nod of recognition to his coach, William "Lone Star" Dietz), whether racist or not, has changed. Rather, it has fallen by the wayside through the team's changing of hands, as names are wont to do (hello, Disney's Mighty Ducks of Anaheim Ducks), as well as the changing of ideologies. For decades, the name 'Redskins' has been a positive icon, and definitely not actively associated with racism. The team's iconic fight song "Hail to the Redskins," unveiled in 1938, extols the Redskins as something worth hailing, and it has been sung that way by millions of Redskins fans.

A quick sidenote: The focused attack on just the Redskins is interesting. Where's the hatred towards the Blackhawks and their far more derivative logo? Where's the all-out offensive on the Atlanta Braves and their handling of the Native American heritage, especially in light of their spring-training cap debacle earlier this year and use of that logo for decades? Oh, right, it's all perfectly innocuous and respectful enough to avoid meriting a letter and lawsuits. Bomani Jones' succinct assessment on "Horn" was a little too succinct: while there are "all the teams that have gotten rid of their Native American names, and there the Redskins are, refusing," they're not alone.

Less deserving of the caucus' time and stationery, apparently.

Even Dave Zirin's editorial letter over at Grantland doesn't acknowledge Snyder's disassociation with both the Redskins' past and any racism that might have remotely lingered. It wasn't Dan Snyder's fault that the team was the last to integrate, in 1961. In fact, the team seems to show little to no indications of racist tendencies today, save for this much-ballyhooed nickname, or rest assured those instances would be in the media's arguments as well.

I may be drifting into areas I don't fully grasp here. I won't profess an extensive knowledge of racist treatment of Native Americans in the past few years. But it has been widely documented that the Washington football team's name is tantamount to a slur towards Native Americans. In this context, however, it is not meant as a slur, or in any way negative. Goodell's description is accurate:

Importantly, this positive meaning is shared by the overwhelming majority of football fans and Americans generally, including Native Americans. (Attached as examples are recent remarks from Chief Steven Dodson, an American Inuit chief and resident of Prince Georges [sic] County, Maryland, and recently retired Chief Robert Green of the Patawomeck Tribe of Virginia.)
I sure hope for his sake that he included them. I couldn't find copies of these remarks.

One of Goodell's points is that the Washington team name has risen above its original, vituperative meaning in almost every corner of culture. This is ignoring Zirin's point that in South Dakota and other places, this may not hold true, but public perception has changed. A Redskin is now something to be praised (ideally--this wasn't true for most of 1995 to 2011 in the football world), and if not praised then respected. Punch "redskin" (NOT "redskins") into any major search engine, and the first result will revolve around football and Washington, virtually every time. Meanwhile, a similarly conducted search for "cracker" does not yield an entry about the snack wafer at number one.

The amusing side to this debate is the giant analogous leaps in logic made by the advocates. My favorite is as follows: both Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN) and Tony Kornheiser proposed the scenario of Snyder and Goodell going to a Native American community and greeting a resident by saying, "Hey, what's up, redskin?" This should never happen, and would not.

However, the idea of perpetuating a racial slur to further your cause is an interesting proposal. The insistence on representatives, interest groups and columnists revisiting this issue is part of the reason that the term "redskin" has kept its dual meaning, instead of being narrowed to the more modern "an employee of the Washington Redskins football team." The problem is not the team using the name; the problem is that it still persists as a slur.

And by the same token, I wouldn't go up to a tall person I'd never met and say "Hey, what's up, giant?" Armed with this argument (now endorsed by members of Congress!) I'm in the process of sending letters to the insensitive New York football team and the callous San Francisco baseball team--San Francisco, that forward-thinking city of acceptance--and ask that they change their nicknames, because of the way that giants are historically depicted in literature. It offends my tall brethren and sisters. Thank you for your concern.

Another mildly interesting note is that there is no accommodating the other side in this debate. Very few columnists are making concessions to the other side. But Goodell, whether by legal obligation or no, made the concession that “reasonable people may view it [this issue] differently, particularly over time.” The fervor and issue which people bring to this case leave no room for the opposition. I see the reason on the other side, but I do not see enough overwhelming evidence to change an institution's name, and deprive this culturally diverse fanbase of their connection with the years of history, as Roger put it. 

Goodell is to be applauded for trying to bring the case into perspective. Yes, the name is not ideal, his argument of positive origins is dubious given Marshall's biased proclivities, and the word should not be used outside of this context, and especially not to insult anyone. Within this football context, however, it is a symbol of respect, of pride, of strength; there is no ill will left in the name in this sphere, and if there is, it needs to be swiftly eradicated. I stand with Roger Goodell on his decision to support the Redskins name.

Hail to the politically neutered Washington Football Team of Divers Football Players, or 'Redthings' Redskins.

I'm not sure this was apparent, but I've been a lifelong fan of this team, from Terry Allen to Alfred Morris.

Monday, May 6, 2013

On A One-Sided Affair: Sharks Dominate Canucks 5-2, Take 3-0 Series Lead in the Shark Tank (and I'm Back!)

Sharks take 3-0 series lead by beating Canucks 5-2
Sharks center Logan Couture, looking distinctly satisfied. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

(Yes, it's been a long time--but I'm going to have another go at this blogging thing, and we'll see how it pans out. This is an opinionated recap, with a few observations here and there.)
[Also, it's ridiculously late, and NHL videos are a pain to embed, but I'll try to incorporate them in the morning.]

What I saw tonight shocked me.

I’ve been a passive follower of San Jose for a few years--beyond passive, even. My stance on the Sharks is the same way it is with most Western Conference teams. I like them but don't feel passionately for them, I read the news on them every day, and I watch them when I can. More like a barely-occasional follower. I like Thornton and Marleau and Boyle as players, and I like the way this team is built on paper. However, the viewing opportunities are limited, and I’m a Capitals fan first and foremost (ROCK THE RED) so the bulk of my time is devoted to them.

With this limited direct contact, I go by what the media says about this team (and, to my shame, most West Coast teams) more often than not, and track the numbers when I can. But what the media has said about the direction of these teams over the season runs completely counter to the message that this three-game battle has proclaimed: the Sharks have arrived. The Vancouver Canucks, on the other side, have devolved into an undisciplined team, taking penalties at will and simply being outmuscled and outwilled by a rather determined team from SoCal.

My studying obligations (for final exams, whose significance will be zero in 20 years) took me away from the game for small parts of the first and the second period, but I was around to see the reaction to Marleau’s high-sticking of Ryan Kesler, and the outrage from the Sharks bench that Kesler stayed on the ice. My limited hockey knowledge brings an NFL analogy to mind, and I’m of the opinion that he would sit out the shift; a very animated Sharks assistant Jay Woodcroft seemed to share my opinion. But Kesler stayed on, and played through a largely uneventful power play.

Refereeing decisions and Kesler trickery aside, this game was littered with cheap shots. At the 14-minute mark in the third, Kesler slashed at the back of Scott Gomez’s head after Gomez was deposited on the ice following a check. The reportedly tame Sedins both threw cheap shots in the 3rd period (Daniel on Logan Couture, Henrik on #15 in front of the net). Vancouver didn't hesitate to buzz the Sharks net after play had stopped, and this led to some chippy encounters. But the referees kept pulling Canucks who lost their cool away from the scrum, and sending a few to the box, Zack Kassian among them.

Most importantly, the Sharks had the grit to respond. Their responses weren’t all about turning cheeks—Tommy Wingels tackling a Canuck in front of the net after a frozen puck stoppage was one of the more memorable images of the night—but it was more disciplined than the guys in white. Logan Couture’s response in the third period will most likely grab headlines and dominate blogs, and it's a great subplot: after taking the punch from Mssr. Henrik off of a faceoff, he proceeded to score 20 seconds later on the ensuing power play, taking the pass from Joe Thornton before pulling the trigger and putting it past Schneider into the far side of the net. This is revenge at its sweetest. Couture, the game's First Star,  had a night to remember all over the place, winning 15 of 18 faceoffs and getting two assists to go with his two goals.

            The Sharks were gaining the offensive zone at will, and had the 38 shots on goal to show for it. The San Jose forwards seemed to be playing at a different gear, especially Joe Pavelski. Pavelski, of whom much ado was made for his goalless playoff drought (14 games), answered the call with 2 goals, the first off a one-timer on a 5-on-3 advantage to open the scoring, and the second a fantastic deflection to make it 2-0.