Everyone's least favorite sportswriter can't be serious with his latest argument. Can he?
Written by Luke O'Neil (@lukeoneil47)
Having just accidentally bumbled into the satirical briar patch that is #hotsportstakes on Grantland, the regular feature in which they attempt to write the worst sports column on Earth, I was extra cautious when I saw a link to ESPN columnist Rick Reilly's latest Hallmark's man-musk line of concern troll sympathy stationery. If "Redskins" is racist, who's going to tell the three Indian reservation high schools that wear it proudly?” he Rick Reilly'd on Twitter. What followed was a 1,000 or so words that began with a variation on the old racist denial canard “Some of my best friends are Native American” and concluded with an analogy between an attempt to pressure a billion dollar sports franchise to change their racist-ass nickname to the systemic genocide of a continent's indigenous people.
Had Reilly out Rick-Reilly'd his satirists here?
The debate over the name of the football team has been heated of late, with a number of media outlets, including Reilly's counterpart in aww-shucks just-folks sports writing Peter King of Monday Morning Quarterback and Sports Illustrated saying he will no longer use it. Robert Griffin III, the team's once-and-maybe-not-future-anymore savior has been asked about the issue repeatedly, including Wednesday when he said during a press conference with the Detroit media that he had been advised not to talk about it anymore.
"Me and all these players in here, we're not the authority to speak on that issue," Griffin said. "We can't tell you anything from that standpoint because we have no authority to talk about that. Not a team-directed thing or anything.”
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell addressed the issue on Wednesday on Washington's 106.7, saying "Ultimately it is [team owner Dan Snyder's] decision but it is something I want all of us to go out and make sure we are listening to our fans, listening to people that have a different view, and making sure we continue to do what is right. We want to make sure the team represents the strong tradition and history that it has for so many years. If we are offending one person we need to be listening and making sure we are doing the right things to address that."
Instead of finding one person or a handful of people who were offended, he took up in favor of the slur, and found a few people who weren't offended. Even Steven!
It's safe to say at this point that more than one person is offended.
Reilly, on the other hand, found that quote amusing, and, in what I still can't believe is the actual argument made on a major sports news site, never mind one from their star columnist, picked up on that idea and decided to turn it on its head. Instead of finding one person or a handful of people who were offended, he took up in favor of the slur, and found a few people who weren't offended. Even Steven! One of them was his father in law, a Blackfeet Indian in Montana, which is how you know Reilly can't be racist. Next he trotted out a couple of majority-Native American high schools who themselves use the name Redskin for their sports teams.
"I've talked to our students, our parents and our community about this and nobody finds any offense at all in it," says Tim Ames, the superintendent of Wellpinit schools. "'Redskins' is not an insult to our kids. 'Wagon burners' is an insult. 'Prairie n-----s' is an insult. Those are very upsetting to our kids. But 'Redskins' is an honorable name we wear with pride. … In fact, I'd like to see somebody come up here and try to change it."
"My kids are really afraid we're going to lose the Redskin name,” another one of Reilly's sources says, quoting something his daughter definitely said. “They say to me, 'They're not going to take it from us, are they, Dad?'"
Who's this guy's daughter, David Frum in a headdress? “Why is Obama not letting grandma go to the hospital daddy? You work so hard.” I will change my name to Redskins O'Neil if that child's quote isn't a complete sack of horseshit. It wouldn't be the first time such a defense had holes in poked in it, as with the “full-blooded chief” the team had been flogging for PR.
As if that weren't enough, Reilly trots out the old false equivalency motif to really seal the reactionary conservative trench-foot spite debate. It would really be pretty ingenious if it weren't all so hackneyed and see-through. Did you know Reilly has atheists acquaintances who are offended by the names New Orleans Saints and Los Angeles Angles of Anaheim? The Redskins have a better chance of winning the Superbowl this year than any such person actually existing.
Who am I to comment on this matter, you might ask. Griffin III feels the same way. “I don't know what to say. I'm not a Native American, so I don't know," he said.
He's wrong. We all know. If you're a reasonable person, your race has no bearing on this matter.
Far be it from me to tell a man that he needs to be offended, do whatever you want with your own beliefs, but the thing is, you kind of need to be offended. It's nice that you've managed to carry on without laboring under the soft-oppression of the iconographication of your people, but guess what? It's racist. Trust me, some of my best friends are racist, so I can speak with authority on the matter.
“Yeah, that shit is racist,” said the daughter of one guy I know. “How is that not obvious to everyone?”
You know who else thinks the Redskins name is racist? Rick Reilly. Or at least he did anyway.
The controversy isn't over the name Redskins entirely, it's about the idea of having any such name in the first place in the year 2013 in America.
It's literally irrelevant if you can find Native Americans who aren't offended by the term. It disproves nothing. It's like listening to Anne Coulter disgorge something provocative from her xenomorphic maw then saying it counts as conclusive proof that sexism isn't an issue. It's hearing a hip hop star use the n-word and thinking “Welp, guess it's lost all it's power then.”
Anecdotal refusal to be victimized by racism does not disprove its existence. Are you telling me I couldn't go out and find a few quotes from a member of any minority who aren't offended by a specific slur and patch it together into a Reilly-like defense? What would that accomplish? And besides, it's not uncommon for an oppressed people to reluctantly subconsciously internalize what was meant to be a derogatory term. I'm not saying that's the case with these people, because how would I know, but it's also not unheard of for minorities to have acquiescence reinforced into their perceptions of themselves dictated downwards by the dominant mainstream culture who've systematically otherized them for centuries. It's like saying “Women seem to be compliant socially speaking, so I guess they don't mind when we control them physically, because they would've done something by now.”
And even if it were true, for the sake of argument, that the majority of Native Americans aren't offended by the term, that's not even the whole point. The specific tired argument trotted out again and again in defense of the team name goes something like “It's all about some politically correct white people in the media trying to make themselves feel better.”
Yes. It actually is.
The controversy isn't over the name Redskins entirely, it's about the idea of having any such name in the first place in the year 2013 in America. It's about agreeing that racial slurs do not belong in mass entertainment like the NFL, no matter who they refer to, and no matter how much the “guardian's of the proud tradition” really, really don't want to change it. This isn't just just for Native Americans, but for the rest of the groups in the country who it might well have been in any other circumstance. And even if you don't believe that, why can't it be about protecting the interest of the majority? The majority of us who don't want to be fans of, and spend money on a league that would defend this type of name so long past the point of reason.
Trust me, Reilly, we do know best in this scenario. Because it's self-evidently right. You'd have to be Hitler to not see that.