An ever widening chorus of voices – including President Obama’s – is passing judgment on the Washington Redskins’ owner Dan Snyder’s decision not to change the team’s name. The critics continue to suggest the name carries racist connotations, while Dan remains firm that what matters most is the football heritage behind it.
In the face of such continued criticism, we don’t think Snyder’s decision to communicate an intractable position is the way to go.
Dan seems to be saying that it’s just “my opinion versus yours.” When you’re placing the heritage of a football team in contest with the emotions brought about by a history of racial oppression, that’s an uphill battle.
Is the intention behind the word all that matters? Even if I say I believe Dan Snyder and the other 57% who said in a recent Washington Post online poll that the name shouldn’t be changed…when they say that they mean no disrespect, is that enough? (Mind you, I won’t go as far as saying I believe that even one fan is thinking about Native Americans when they sing “Hail to the Redskins,” which Snyder contends is in honor of the team and seems to imply, also in honor of the history of the people.)
As a believer that “It’s not what you say that matters. It’s what they hear,” I’d argue that intention matters very little. A growing segment of the population is offended by the word and no amount of team pride or RG3 touchdowns will lessen that.
As a side note, my high school mascot was the Redskins and they had the sense to change it in 2000 to the Raiders. And I’m sure fans are still flocking out in the dozens to see those Friday night games, despite the name change.