Words are symbols, and symbols, with all their connotations, have power.
Even in sports.
And so, the unfortunate name of the NFL franchise in our nation’s capital lives on. If the owner of the club, Dan Snyder, has his way, the name will never be changed. He said never, and he said to put the NEVER in all caps. It matters little what connotations concerned people, be they senators or sensationalists, on the outside draw.
The latest evidence comes from broadcaster Al Michaels, who said on a recent television program that he’s talked with Snyder and that the owner essentially said he would change the name "over my dead body."
Interesting that he would use such phraseology, given that hundreds of thousands of indigenous people, referred to by the ugliest side of Snyder’s team’s name, died at the hands of encroaching Europeans taking over the North American continent. And now, Snyder holds fast to the claim that the name is a term of honor, a term that pays tribute to Native Americans, not a term that denigrates them.
A large percentage of Americans, Native and otherwise, disagree with Snyder, according to polls. The issue has jumped far beyond the overly sensitive, those who use political correctness as a stick to beat and bludgeon traditional thinking. It’s reached now, among a majority, to a point of common sense.
But Snyder won’t budge.
Michaels certainly doesn’t think so.
"It seems to me as though he’s going to hold on," the broadcaster said during an appearance on "Jim Rome on Showtime," according to reports. "I mean, all of a sudden — I mean, for 70-some-odd years this was a zero issue, and then it became an issue. I understand we live in this politically correct environment. It’s crazier than ever. You know, senators want to weigh in on this, like there’s nothing better to do in Congress. This becomes a big issue. I mean, I just think it’s nuts. And I do know, I’ve talked to Snyder about it — not recently, but when we were in Washington last year — and he basically said ‘over my dead body.’ "
Something else for Michaels to understand: Just because something wasn’t an issue over an extended period in the past doesn’t mean a more enlightened stance shouldn’t be found or should be resisted on account of the way things used to be. A brighter evolution of thought is a phenomenon known as … progress.
It’s not "crazy." It’s not "nuts."
And, in this case, it’s been a long time coming.
Some symbols are better changed.
Although many Native American leaders and activists have spoken out for changing the name, calling it offensive, there are holdouts who think like Snyder. People who justify the use of the term because they say, according to some research, that tribal leaders were the first to use the name, as a means of distinguishing themselves from "white-skins." They go on to say that if the NFL franchise were to change its name, then what about the state of Oklahoma? Should it also alter its name because it is based on Choctaw words meaning "red people"?
The origins of the word really don’t matter. What is more significant is that the term became derogatory in its usage and in popular culture, carrying with it stereotypes and connotations that were anything but honorable, all after and as a large group of people were shoved off their lands and otherwise badly mistreated.
And Snyder wants to pay tribute to them, to honor them, with the very name that too often became emblematic of those injustices. Looking back at the tragedies of American history, that’s sadly apropos. A guy like Snyder reminding Native Americans how he’s going to honor them with a term that became a slur.
It’s pretty simple, even if the Washington owner doesn’t want to hear it: If there are concerns from a large number of Native Americans, or even a few, about the troubling nature of the term, that should carry enough truck to change the name. Seventy-some years of football tradition can’t erase or pretty up a couple centuries of wrongdoing.
Dan Snyder is one of a greatly diminishing number of Americans left who can’t — or won’t — see that.
GORDON MONSON hosts "The Big Show" with Spence Checketts weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM/1280 and 960 AM The Zone. Twitter: @GordonMonson.
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