John Grindrod: The Redskin controversy: Roger Goodell and the missed opportunity

June 18, 2013

Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder, of course, was looking for some league office approval to a stance the billionaire took some time ago in response to the increasing pressure by both American Indian groups and, really, all who feel we should employ any and all means necessary not to support racism in any form.

Because, like a lot of billionaires, Snyder doesn’t want to be told what to do after he’s spent his money (buying the Washington franchise back in 1999), he’s remained adamant that he wouldn’t bow to any public pressure to change the team nickname.

The name was selected some 76 years ago by original owner George Preston Marshall, a descendant of Virginia confederates and a man who opposed the league’s allowing black players before finally succumbing to pressure and signing the first black player, Bobby Mitchell, in 1962. In doing so, Washington is the ignominious answer to the trivia question, “What was the last team in the NFL to sign a black player?”

Snyder’s adamant stance is evident in his telling whoever will listen,” We’ll never change the name. It’s that simple, NEVER — you can use caps.” No doubt, it was applauded by many longtime fans of the franchise.

Well, last week, he got what he desired, a stamp of approval from the league office when the titular head of our nation’s most popular sport, Roger Goodell, released a letter saying that as league commissioner, he would not intervene on the matter and that the nickname is actually “a unifying force that stands for strength, courage, pride and respect.”

Hey, Rog! How about a little Facebook LOL thrown your way?

Actually, this one’s pretty easy to figure out. Of course, one of the very owners who put you in office and provided you with an opportunity to earn, according to Sports Business Journal writer Daniel Kaplan, $20 million a year by decade’s end, expects no less than full approbation when it comes to such matters. After all, such exorbitant compensation comes with certain expectations.

The fact is, as, I’m pretty sure Goodell knows somewhere deep down where he’d rather not visit, the term “Redskin”— not when it was used by colonists in the 18th century, not when it was used by settlers in the 19th century, not when it was tabbed by Marshall as his team’s nickname in the 20th century and not today — has always been the same, which is a pejorative term for American Indians.

However, rather than to confront one of those to whom he is beholding, Goodell has not just recused himself but invented his own reality by attempting to aggrandize the name by bestowing upon it some sense of nobility.

Now, I will tell you that once upon a time, I never thought twice about my alma mater, Miami University, using Redskins as its moniker. I went to the games, cheered for the team that I referred to as “the 'Skins” and, like many who are so blinded by tradition that they fail to see a layer or two deeper, was deeply offended when the school changed the nickname to RedHawks, after the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma in 1996 requested the discontinuation of its use.

As I was wont to tell others, “I have a class ring from Miami with the year 1973 on it and an Indian representing the Miami Tribe, NOT a bird!”

However, the wonders of evolution took root, and the more I thought about the word as a team name and the implications of the term “Redskins” and the unlikelihood I would ever walk up to an American Indian and say, “Hey, what’s up, Redskin?” the brighter the light got up in my noggin.

Now, for me, that doesn’t mean that every team name and/or mascot that has anything to do with American Indians is offensive. For a school like the University of Illinois that recognizes the competitive spirit of a tribe, by employing the moniker the Fighting Illini, or other schools that have selected a tribal name, such as the Florida State Seminoles, I see more tribute than anything Goodell tried to sell me in his letter that surfaced last week.

On a professional level, I’ve no problem with diamond dwellers such as the Indians of Cleveland or the Braves of Atlanta or even the frozen pond Stanley Cup finalist Blackhawks of Chicago because in all cases, the nicknames don’t promote a stereotype. As for “Redskins,” really, for me, it’s hard to see the term all that much differently than the racist terms we’ve all heard for Asians, blacks or Spanish-speaking individuals.

And, if the only reason to continue employing the nickname for sports teams is because it has been used for decades, well, that seems to me to be a pretty shallow reason to perpetuate its usage. After all, the history books are filled with institutions and verbiage that were once used but no longer are deemed appropriate.

And, for those who say that the use of the moniker isn’t offensive in any way, I wonder if they would feel that way if they themselves were American Indian. After all, it’s easy not to be offended when you’re not the one to whom the term refers.

As a former Miami Redskin, once upon an early 1970s time, I couldn’t have imagined changing my school’s nickname. Were I affiliated with an institution using the same nickname today, I couldn’t imagine not changing it.