This past weekend I traveled to the AT&T stadium to watch the Washington NFL team play the Dallas Cowboys with about fifty other DMV football fans. I’m far from a sports fanatic, but most of my husband’s family has been supporting the Washington team for generations: his grandfather, his father, and now him. It was a family affair, and, as someone with limited football experience, it would be easy for me to shift my flimsy Eagle’s alliance to be able to root beside my husband and carry on the family tradition.
Would be, but for one huge issue… the team’s blatant refusal to change its name and the constant promotion of propaganda that distorts the facts.
Through my own family I see the history, the experiences, and the emotional ties that are linked to sports. And because of this, I am calling for a change of the team’s name so that I too can participate in this family tradition.
I have heard a few arguments from people about why the name shouldn’t be changed. One that seems to be the most popular, and the most promoted by the Washington PR team, is that not every Native American finds the word offensive. In response, I have to take examples that I find parallel and hope that it illuminates some hypocrisy– not to denigrate and shame black Washington NFL fans, but to show that I believe we can find some common ground.
Despite the war on “political correctness” waged in comment sections across the internet, I’d say that black people have been victorious in reprimanding public figures for their racial insults despite whether the black community has reached a consensus. Not all black people were offended when Don Imus referred to the Rutgers women’s basketball team as a bunch of nappy headed hoes. Not all black people were moved to anger by Donald Sterling’s private conversations banning his mistress from hanging with black men at his games. And not all black people got upset when Paula Dean waxed nostalgic about slavery days. Despite the variation in responses to these issues, these public figures were blasted and punished for offending members of the group. Endorsements were lost, jobs taken away, and pockets hurt.
Due to my own ignorance, I only recently learned the true history of the word for which the Washington NFL team is named. And though inexcusable, I can admit that it wasn’t easy given the plethora of propaganda the Washington PR team has been manufacturing and promoting (I mean you can’t follow the team’s Facebook page without being inundated with interviews of individuals claiming the name represents them and their lineage). But with that said, I can assure you that there are people who are deeply hurt and offended by this term. And though my opinion on this may not be the expertise you need, I implore you to do an educated Google search. As I tell my high school students, weigh the sources and evaluate their credibility. If you do this I am convinced you will reach the same conclusion as I have.
In sum, I write this letter both as an apology to those who are offended by the use of the racial slur, for I too have participated in offending you, as well as a call to action for those who have fought their own battles in honor of their own groups. One cannot rightly defend their own rights while ignoring the rights of others. One cannot demand dignity and respect while refusing to offer the same to others. One cannot shame Halloween goers for wearing blackface, while walking around in Native American head dresses on game day (or any other day for that matter). And more to the point of this article, one cannot rage against Donald Sterling, Paula Dean, and Don Imus yet turn around and shout the R-word during Monday Night Football. So let’s stop using the r-word and join me in raising support for a name change.