Brian Clarke

Redskin, Please! NFL Placing One Race Above Another

Created on Mar. 13, 2014 7:17 PM EST

In an attempt to tackle racial issues within its league, the NFL is trying to put out a forest fire with a bucket of water. There are other issues far more pressing, such as the effectiveness of the Rooney Rule or the lack of minority executives. Or there’s the little issue of the racist mascot of one of their premier franchises. Implementing farcical initiatives clothed in progress present themselves less as honest efforts to improve relations and more as a patronizing attempt to pass the buck on real issues.  

While the NFL has taken a stance on the N-word, there’s still the lingering issue of the Washington football team’s mascot that remains, despite its racist name and depiction. Let’s see how we, the American football fan, would receive this story if the roles were reversed. 

Imagine this scenario for a moment ...

It’s a word considered so vile, we’ve found one specific euphemism to refer to it. It’s considered the harshest word in the English language, so harsh, it’s simply described with the first letter and “word.” The word is Redskin. Our relationship with the R-word is polarizing and context with this slur matters greatly. It has a complex history and questions continue to swirl around its ownership, who can use it, or if it should be used at all.   

However, the NFL wants to seize the R-word as an opportunity to show it is serious about fighting racism. The NFL has proposed a ban on the word in their workplace. Use of the R-word during a game will result in a 15-yard penalty. This seems like an oversimplified rule, endorsed by rich white owners, to “solve” a complex issue to which they don’t completely understand. The slur may make you cringe, but isn’t it up to the community itself to decide whether or not the word should be banned? It shouldn’t be up to an NFL committee to dictate the morality of a word to a minority group.

It’s especially curious that NFL executives attempt to ban the R-word, while the Washington football team is still referred to as the Tar Babies. The owner of the Washington football team has come out and claimed that the Tar Baby name is an attempt to honor African-Americans' contribution to the country. “The name was never a label," the team's owner said. "It was, and continues to be, a badge of honor.”

For exactly who?

It is of course considered an honor to those who are perpetrating the offensive behavior, but not those who are suffering from the embarrassment of the caricature. Generations of fans have grown up with the belief that painting themselves in blackface honors African-American heritage. The only way this disconnect happens is if there is a conscious effort to shut out the interests of that particular community. It's even more shameful that rather than using the power and influence of the franchise and the sport to correct a wrong, the owner is dedicated to preserving this misrepresentation. 

The owner isn’t so much concerned about being accurate about history as he is is about preserving his story. His story posits that black people feel a sense of pride seeing a racial epithet used to mock them, associated with the football team of the nation's capital. His story suggests that the minstrel-like blackface plastered on the helmets of the Tar Babies is homage to African-American culture. His story is tinged with delusion and mostly an attention to the bottom line. How embarrassing would it be for ownership to actually acknowledge that they have profited billions of dollars from a racially offensive name?

So instead of correcting a wrong, they protect their brand name and their bottom line.

And continue to prolong an injust double standard.

With its proposed rule change banning one slur, while allowing another to remain as the name of one of its most prominent franchises, the NFL has said it values the heritage of one ethnic group over another. That is the very essence of racism. Fighting “racism” in one realm, while preserving it in another, doesn’t strengthen its position; it only works to erode the NFL’s credibility on racial issues going forward.

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