On Jan. 14, 1963, Gov. George C. Wallace of Alabama delivered an inaugural address in which he declared his unwavering allegiance to “segregation now, segregation tomorrow and segregation forever.”
Those words became an anthem of intolerance and a rallying cry for those who opposed civil rights, equal rights and human rights. Those words defined Wallace’s legacy.
Fifty years later, Daniel Snyder, the owner of the N.F.L.’s Washington franchise, is making an equally strident stand against civility that will define his legacy as an owner and as a citizen.
Thus begins William C Rhoden’s hyperbolic, moralistic rant (in the October 12, 2013 New York Times) to change the name of the mascot of Washington, D.C.’s NFL franchise. Really, he compared the owner of the Washington Redskins to segregationist Alabama governor George C Wallace, and because Snyder bought a team (in 1999) whose mascot was the “Redskins” and has since refused to change the name. In other words, “segregation now, segregation tomorrow and segregation forever” is the moral equivalence of Daniel Snyder’s 2013 assertion, “We’ll never change the name. It’s that simple. NEVER—you can use caps.”
And thus is further diluted the impact of the Wallace analogy. When every slightly, possibly, racist thing is analogous to Wallace’s stand in the school-house door, then nothing is. Daniel Snyder is not George Wallace. Daniel Snyder is not representing a constituency standing on the wrong side of history, as Rhoden asserts is true of both men. Snyder has no voting constituency. He hasn’t, like Wallace had, the vast power of the state’s monopoly on the use of violence to enforce his will.
Synder owns an NFL football team, nothing more. He certainly has customers, i.e., his Washington fan base, about whose opinions he must be concerned. And he certainly has the NFL and its do gooder commissioner, the aptly named Roger Goodell, to keep happy. And if either of them grow sufficiently tired of the political ire, albeit mostly contrived, that the name engenders, perhaps Snyder will eat his words and change it. But exhortations from politicians (Obama chimed in, saying that maybe the name needed changing) won’t be sufficient, and certainly neither will the exhortations of unhinged sportswriters posing as ethics bloviators do much to help.
I hate the Washington Redskins. I grew up, like a lot of other folks whose hometown didn’t have an NFL team, a fan of America’s team, the Dallas Cowboys. It was during the late seventies and early eighties, when the Cowboys and Redskins fiercely competed for division and conference dominance, that my hatred for the Redskins was born. But the Cowboys/Redskins rivalry actually began as soon as Dallas started playing football in 1962 in the same NFL division as the Redskins (the Redskins franchise dates to 1932; the name of the mascot to 1937). I hated the Redskins through the seventies, when Dallas dominated their division rival, but really ramped up the hatred going into the early eighties, when Washington took the upper hand.
Then I went to flight school (1985) and happened to room with a guy from the D.C. area who was the most obnoxious Redskins fan imaginable. Every Sunday he’d prance through the house we shared with two other flight students, loudly chanting in Southern black slang (he was white), “Can’t nobody beat the Redskins…can’t nobody beat the Redskins”. It took a couple of weeks until we learned that he got the chant and the rhythm from the black peanut guy who used to traipse up and down the aisle next to his seat at the stadium. Between chants, the guy would throw in a shout about the peanuts he was ostensibly selling. If my roommate was any indication, the peanut guy wrapped himself tightly in the Redskins banner in order to market his wares, undoubtedly a good marketing ploy. But by the time flight school was over, and I’d suffered months of my roommate’s stupid chant, I really, really hated the Redskins. It was a hatred much like the rivalry; one that ran true and deep. I also sort of hated my roommate by then, too, but that’s a different story.
Though I no longer much care for the Cowboys– Jerry Jones is just too show-biz extravagant for my tastes—I still hate the Redskins. Even as I really like their new quarterback, Robert Griffin III, and their proven coach, Mike Shanahan. I hate their stupid looking uniforms, a jumbled contrast between what appears to be puke-colored yellow and garnet-tinged blood. I hate that they represent Washington D.C., and so politicians, particularly presidents, are forever looking for ways to get in the front of the Redskins popularity parade. I hate that their idiotic owner, Daniel Snyder, has made the Redskins into the Afghanistan of coaching, the place where imperial coaching egos go to die, robbing me of much of the joy of hating them that once was mine. With the Redskins as pathetic as they’ve been since Snyder took over, the Schadenfreude of watching them flail helplessly about has waned precipitously in satisfaction.
But I don’t hate their name. It’s just a name. Call them, like one rag has decided it would, the “Pigskins”, and I’d hate them all the same.
As if Rhoden’s moralizing wasn’t already over the top with his analogy of Snyder to Wallace in Snyder’s refusal to change the name, he takes it to the level of hysteria:
By his insistence on using a term that offends even one person, however, he contributes to an atmosphere of intolerance and bigotry. Snyder has an opportunity to get on the right side of history, though I don’t expect someone as vain as he appears to be to change his team’s nickname voluntarily.
To what intolerance and bigotry does he refer? At least over half the players on the Redskins are black. In 1987, Doug Williams led the intolerant and bigoted Redskins as the first black quarterback in the NFL to win a Super Bowl ring for his team. And how could it be possible to change the name to a term that offends not “even one person”? As the franchise is reputed to be the third most valuable franchise in the NFL (Dallas is first), it has to be imagined that Redskins fans must be fairly well vested in the team and its name, and might take umbrage at any change in the name. Or are they not people, also? Oh, I see the point–maybe Redskins fans are subhuman. But wouldn’t that imply the duty to protect them from the depravity of the fully human? To save them from the depredations of politically correct Progressives?
And Snyder may very well be on the right side of history here. At some point, this society has got to get less sensitive. It has got to quit the victimization circus. The federal government has pandered enough to people who have even the slightest perception of having had their feelings hurt. Besides, is it plausible that Washington named its franchise Redskins back in 1937 because it wished to denigrate the descendants of indigenous Americans? It is rather more plausible that the name was meant to evoke all the noble and courageous attributes of tribal warriors that had become part of American mythology by the time of the team’s adoption of the mascot. That the term later devolved to the status of pejorative in the minds of some people speaks more to the victimization racket that arose subsequent to its adoption than to any real expression of racist bigotry.
And what good would it do to change the name? The Northern Europeans’ treatment of the indigenous populations here was atrocious as the land was colonized and Western Civilization expanded westward. Would any of that history change by changing the name of the Redskins? Not a bit.
Snyder finally seems to be doing some things right in his ownership of the team. The team started slow last season, but made the playoffs by beating Dallas in its final game. It has a hot young quarterback (albeit one with a gimpy knee about now). It has one of the best coaches in football in Mike Shanahan (he’s got two Super Bowl rings from his tenure at Denver). And Snyder has vowed to never change the team’s name. It almost leaves me rooting for a Redskins resurgence, buy mainly so I can enjoy it more when they get beat.
I enjoyed glimpses of the old satisfaction I used to feel last Sunday night (October 13, 2013), watching the Cowboys get a bit of revenge for the two losses, and the failed playoff bid, that the Redskins tagged them with last season. It was the first time I had rooted for the Cowboys since I can’t remember when.
As I watched the Redskins getting beat, chants of “Can’t nobody beat the Redskins” echoed reminiscently in my head. I hoped my old roommate, wherever he might be, was watching the game and likewise suffering.
Call them anything you want. They’ll always be the Redskins to me. And I’ll always hate them.