Alex Pareene at Salon has a remarkable article up today about the Washington R*dsk*ns hiring Frank Luntz to try to convince people that the obnoxious racial slur that is the team’s name should not be recognized for what it is. The article makes an excellent case for bothering to consult history before rendering judgments about these sorts of things, because if you look at history, it becomes indisputable that the team was given this name because it was a vile racist slur, and for no other reason.
This Washington football team was named by one of the most vehement racists in the history of American professional sports. When George Marshall bought the team in 1932, they were called the Boston Braves. He changed the name — to a slur, because he was a racist — and moved them to Washington. He made “Dixie” one of the team’s fight songs and refused to hire black players well into the 1960s. The NFL integrated in 1946 but Marshall’s team held out until the federal government actually forced them to field black players in 1963. The all-white Washington teams of the 1950s and 1960s were among the worst in the league, but segregation was more important to Marshall than winning football games. The NFL had actually already been racially integrated until black players were suddenly banned in 1933. Interviews with owners suggest that Marshall was responsible for the ban.
This is the man who named the team and white supremacy and racism obviously informed his every decision. In his will he insisted that his foundation not spend any money on “any purpose which supports or employs the principle of racial integration in any form.” It is extremely hard to believe that this man selected the name — specially changed the name from a less offensive term for American Indians to this term — to “honor” anyone, the usual argument used by the team’s modern defenders.
Not that the facts will cause anyone to adjust their support for this team name, but it should. I find the entire excuse-making enterprise for racist team names to be exhausting in its stupidity, from the claim that obviously offensive names aren’t (since white racists get to decide what is and isn’t offensive, apparently) to whining that it would be too much of a hassle to change the name, despite the fact that teams routinely not only change their name but also their branding and even their hometown all the time. If anything, a name change could freshen up a tired old brand and bring some new fans in, and I doubt that they’d really lose any old fans, except maybe a couple of diehards for whom the whole point is being racist. And of course, invariably—and I bet in comments below!—I will get the men who clearly believe that women’s opinions on sports will forever and ever be invalid. That sort of thinking is also used to deflect male criticism, by implying that man making it is somehow not manly enough to get it. This is all deflection from the real issue, which is that in the year 2013, there is a major sports team with an insanely offensive racial slur that is the Native American version of the n-word for a name. Everything else is just noise.