Hail to the Who Now?

In case you don’t follow football, there’s growing controversy over the name of the Washington football team, to the point where some news outlets won’t even print or say the name. (It’s Redskins, for those of you who are unaware.) The controversy is that this name is alleged to be a racial slur and thereby offensive, and there are those who are urging team owner Dan Snyder to change the name to something less offensive. On the other side of the debate you have Dan Snyder who continues to assert there is nothing offensive about the team name, it is a proud tradition, and he will never change the name (his words, not mine).

I find myself a bit torn on this one, although only a bit. The knee-jerk libertarian in me wants to say it’s his team and he can do what he wants with it, and free speech, and yada yada yada, but on the other hand I can understand where the offended parties are coming from and I don’t think Snyder is doing himself any favors. For all I care he can call the team the Hooligans, the Rednecks, or even the Crackers and I wouldn’t be offended, but that’s not the point. It’s not my place to tell people whether or not they should be offended, and it certainly isn’t Dan Snyder’s place either. His continues attempts to defend the team name involve so many logical fallacies it’s hard to list them all, but for starters how about: appeal to emotion, ad hominem (one of Dan’s favorites), bandwagon, anecdotal, and the fallacy fallacy.

There is of course the lawsuit moving forward to revoke the trademark protection for the team name, which some people have argued would force Snyder to change the team name, but then I doubt it. If it was only about money he would have done it a long time ago. For Snyder it’s about power and control. He will do what he wants, when he wants, how he wants, and damn the consequences (if you don’t believe me, ask any Washington football fan). With friends like this the home team doesn’t need enemies, but then it doesn’t much matter, because Dan “Never – you can use caps” Snyder has proven time and again he’d rather lose ten million dollars “proving” he’s right than earn a red nickel admitting he was wrong.

Of course, there is another side to all of this. As My Not So Humble Wife pointed out, it’s a numbers game, and until there are enough people offended to form an army that will march on Washington and threaten to burn down the stadium, Snyder won’t even think about budging. There are also a lot of loyal fans who have a lot of emotion tied up in the team’s identity as well, memories of good times and friends and even loved ones long gone who were bonded with over the team, and that is a powerful force to contend with as well. Simply letting that go because there is a “vocal minority” that is offended is going to be hard for them, and people need to respect that. Simply shouting “you’re wrong!” is never a way to make friends and influence people (or so I have found). Insistence that “if one person is offended, this is something we have to listen” is more likely to make them more defensive and hostile than to bring them around. Better to point out the ways that the Washington team has evolved over its proud history, for example moving away from “Dixie” to “D.C.” in the fight song and finally accepting integration of players.

Talk of being on “the right side of history” is a threat, and threats drive people apart. Maybe it’s time we start talking about how we want to have a team in our nation’s capital that the whole nation can be proud of, and that the entire country will stand to cheer. Hail to you, Washington, whatever your team may be.


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