Bottom line: A slur is a slur is a slur

Posted10/23/2013 5:31 AM

Sensitivity is such a sensitive issue in this country.

A complicated one, too.


Take the "Redskins" name that emerged from the weekend a lot more intact than the Bears' roster did.

The Washington football team in the NFL has been under fire recently -- just as it has been periodically for decades -- but club owner Daniel Snyder is steadfast in resisting a change.

The controversy has come and gone and come and gone for years. The only things that stayed are "Redskins" and the Indian caricature logo.

The politically correct make their case. The politically weary dismiss it. Surprising for two parties in Washington not to agree on something and for movement to stall, right?

Anyway, maybe you noticed that this newspaper instituted a boycott on the word "Redskins" except for commentaries like this one that address the subject.

Let me point out right away that it's awkward to write a story without calling the team the "Redskins." After all, it is the franchise's name. It has been accepted, or at least tolerated, for longer than most of us have been alive.

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Ignoring "Redskins" on the sports pages is a little like referring to "Damn Yankees" as "Dang Yankees" on the entertainment pages. However, we feel strongly enough that "Redskins" is derogatory to Indians and offensive to others that we have to trust football fans to know who we're writing about.

I personally have wrestled with this issue for a long time. Calling a team "Indians" or "Braves" doesn't seem as offensive to me as "Redskins." But I'm not Indian. If someone who is says "Indians" or "Braves" on a sports team is offensive, I have to take his or her word for it.

Who am I to argue if a significant number of Indians are offended by the caricature Chief Wahoo in Cleveland or the tomahawk chop in Atlanta?

I'm a University of Illinois graduate who cherished Chief Illiniwek but was OK with it being banished. Changing "Blackhawks" for Chicago's hockey team would be OK if enough Indians objected to it.

They're only a symbol and a name, and these lines aren't worth drawing. Eliminate the symbol and the state university still is a great academic institution; change the name and the local NHL team still would play great hockey.


Back to Washington: "Redskins" to me is racist.

Over the weekend I read a long, articulate, thoughtful piece on that defended the name. So there is another side to the story. Still, I come down on the side that says "Redskins" today is a slur.

Here's how I resolved this issue in my mind: It would be an insult to address a person who has Indian features with, "Hey, Redskin."

You know, like it would be insulting to address a black person with the N-word or a Jewish person with the K-word.

So if it would be wrong to call strangers, acquaintances or friends "Redskins," how could it be all right for the NFL to spread the word around the globe?

The league's players are minorities by a huge majority but most have declined to draw attention to "Redskins" by speaking out against it. That leaves it to others to take a stand. This newspaper joined several other news agencies in doing so.

As awkward as a game story's phrasing might be without referring to "Redskins," it's a minor inconvenience to endure in the name of doing what we believe to be appropriate.

A style change like this isn't instituted to change the world. It's instituted to serve our own conscience.

Perhaps NFL ownership in Washington and around the league eventually will be sensitive enough to listen to the silence.

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