There’s something very wrong with a society that obsesses over the nickname of a professional football franchise but sees nothing wrong with the everyday use of the word “retard.”
Since the new NFL season started, I’ve seen lots of wailing and gnashing of teeth over whether the Washington Redskins should change their name. Neil Irwin of The Washington Post described it as “the most patently offensive name in pro sports” and President Obama also came out in favor of a name change.
Columbus Day Weekend stirred the pot (because, contrary to what I was taught in grade school, Columbus is a controversial figure) so NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell weighed in on Sunday night, as did NBC Sports’ Bob Costas, who devoted almost two and a half minutes of halftime to the “controversy” (along with a shameless plug for NBC Sports’ dedicated Redskins name website).
Some of the debate centers around the meaning of the name – is it a slur, or a term of honor? – and there’s been a lot of people asking, “What if it was the slur for X, Y, or Z groups instead?” That question is (at best) an imperfect analogy because clearly the original intent for choosing the nickname was to rally the fans and call to mind a brave warrior, not to disparage an ethnic group. But is that defense good enough?
Frankly, I don’t give a damn.
While a bunch of predominantly white male sportswriters are wringing their hands over the nickname – and note that many are intentionally choosing to omit the word in their reporting – columnist Maureen Dowd of The New York Times is also voicing her disdain for the name by stating that “The term ‘redskin’ is never a compliment.” Many Native Americans would disagree.
But do you know what word is truly never, under any circumstances, a compliment? Retard.
Unlike the Redskins, no sports teams have chosen retard as their nickname, either. Spend a little while cruising social media and the comboxes of some of the news stories and blog posts about the Redskins’ name, however, and you’ll find plenty of folks who feel no qualms about calling one side or the other in the debate “retarded” or “retard”.
Can you say “tone-deaf”?
When sportswriters and journalists start giving a damn about the pervasive use in all of our society – not just within the confines of a single football franchise – of the REAL r-word, then I’ll start caring about the Washington Redskins’ mascot.
Until that day comes, the only thing I’ll worry about is whether the Saints finish ahead of them in the NFC postseason.
Addendum: Lest anyone assume that I am indifferent to the concerns of Native Americans – don’t. The historical treatment of Native American peoples has been shameful and abhorrent. Language is powerful, but I believe the current obsession with the Redskins’ name is a lot of self-righteous posturing that’ll accomplish very little in the end – regardless of whether the name is changed – because “redskin” isn’t part of most people’s vernacular today in any context other than football. Meanwhile, the ID community’s pleas for elimination of the r-word continue to fall on deaf ears.