Wednesday, October 16, 2013


Anyone familiar with spectator sports of any kind know the name Bob Costas.  He's been around broadcasting since the early 1980s.

Well, Sunday night during NBC's Sunday Night Football, at halftime, Costas took on the Washington Redskins.  It was the first time and it was important that it occured in the midst of a hugely watched national broadcast of America's most favorite team sport...NFL Football.

He used two minutes of airtime to do so.  That might not seem like much and his actions aren't like the bravest thing ever done, but, you know what, it's a big deal,  whatever you think. 

Costas said that the word Redskins,  "...can’t possibly honor a heritage or a noble character trait, nor could it possibly be considered a neutral term. It’s an insult, a slur no matter how benign the present-day intent."

Costas wasn't through.  The next day he appeared on The Dan Patrick radio program.  Costas had a question for Washington's football teams owner Don Snyder:

“If you were to walk into a gathering of Native Americans–if you were on a reservation or happened to come across a family of Native Americans in a restaurant, and you began conversing with them–would you feel comfortable referring to them as Redskins?”

Personally, I liked to see Snyder try that. 

Right wingers and racists jumped all over Costas for his "audacity."  Many on the left thought he was too mild and let too many off the hook.

Again, the fact that this man said something on this night is of importance if one actually cares about getting rid of that slur of a name and of dealing with the whole issue of racist mascots and names in general.  It is important to take on the issue of white supremacy in popular culture in a place where millions of "not just the choir" are watching.  If one is only interested in scoring some polemical victory on either the left or the right, then I suppose it is of no matter.

It is interesting that less then two weeks earlier Steven Gaydos wrote on the Variety web site:

What’s wrong with this sports picture?

Perhaps the most overdue demonstration of one scintilla of the testosterone that drives the multibillion dollar sports broadcasting industry is for one leading figure from CBS, ESPN, Fox, NBC et al to stand up to the dude who owns the Washington Redskins and say, “We think your refusal to change the name of your franchise stinks.”

Perhaps that could be phrased in a slightly less contentious, confrontational manner, but hey, this is the big-time macho, masculine world of concussions, blown knees and lots of violent felony convictions.

Could the television, radio and online folks making billions off all of the crashing and banging on field demonstrate that they have one tiny gonad between all of them?

Or do the riches they make off the NFL render them as impotent as a pep squad full of castratos?

Consider that the Washington Bullets changed their name because frankly, there are enough real bullets in Washington, D.C. to warrant a little sensitivity, which is all that is being asked of billionaire franchise owner Daniel Marc Snyder.

Since it doesn’t seem likely that anyone is launching a sports franchise named the Whiteys, Rednecks, Blackfaces, Yellowskins, Brownbacks, it raises the question as to why Mr. Snyder is sticking to his guns and continues to shoot down any effort by Native Americans, especially the Oneida tribe, who simply would like a little of what Otis and Aretha sang about decades ago.

How about a little respect?

That's tough in a white supremacist society...

Both Posts below are from The Nation.  The first is relates to Costas' remarks.  The second (from 2011) gets into the racist history of the Washington Football franchise in general.  You will want to read them both.

Bob Costas Spoke Out Against ‘Redskins,’ and It Was a Big Deal

Broadcast personality Bob Costas looks into the camera while at yesterday’s game between the Washington Redskins and the Dallas Cowboys, in Texas. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

Judging by the utterly unscientific polling in my twitter feed, Bob Costas’s half-time commentary on the Washington Redskins name managed to displease almost everybody. The sports fans were enraged that Costas said the name could be seen as “a slur” and “an insult”. They were irate that Costas would bring his “politics” into sports, as if having a team representing the nation’s capital called “Redskins” is not in fact political. They also used various forms of the phrase “pussification of America,” which makes me curious why the men in my Twitter feed who love the Redskins name also seem to have such unbridled contempt for women.

On the other side of the issue, there were many tweeting, texting, and e-mailing me that they were angry Costas started his commentary by saying, ”[T]here’s no reason to believe that owner Daniel Snyder, or any official or player from his team, harbors animus towards Native Americans, or chooses to disrespect them.” They argued that by telling mistruths about the team’s history, responding with such rancor to those asking about changing the name and refusing to meet with Native Americans who disagree with the name, he is absolutely “disrespecting” Native American history.

They were also upset that Costas stated that names like the Braves—home of the tomahawk chop—and the Kansas City Chiefs—home of this guy– “honor, rather than demean” and “they’re pretty much the same as Vikings, Patriots, or even Cowboys.” People pointed out that there is a reason all “mascoting” of Native Americans has been opposed by the Oneida, the Choctaw and many other Tribal councils. It is because they turn Native American culture into solely a symbol of the savage and the violent. They also, as minstrelsy tends to do, allows the dominant culture to turn a blind eye to the very real problems of poverty, education and healthcare in the Native American community.

My view, and I cannot say this forcefully enough, is that whatever problems people may have with the content of what Bob Costas said, the veteran broadcaster seized the moment and was a profile in courage. Costas did the unthinkable: he took a stand against racism on national television. He also openly—as he did a year ago by addressing gun culture after the horrific murder suicide perpetrated by Chiefs’ player Jovan Belcher against Kasandra Perkins—willingly courted the ire of disturbingly violent right-wing sports fans and their droogs in the conservative blogosphere. (These right-wingers seem to always ignore that the greatest backer of changing the name in Congress is Oklahoma Republican and Choctaw Nation member Tom Cole.)

Take a step back and look at what Costas did. He faced the camera on the most watched television show in the United States and said the following.

“Think for a moment about the term ‘Redskins,’ and how it truly differs from all the others. Ask yourself what the equivalent would be if directed towards African-Americans, Hispanics, Asians or any other ethnic group. When considered that way, ‘Redskins’ can’t possibly honor a heritage or noble character trait, nor can it possibly be considered a neutral term. It’s an insult, a slur, no matter how benign the present-day intent.”

If you had told me even two months ago that Bob Costas would be saying those words, I would have been in a state of shock. The terrain has changed. Credit for this should go to The Oneida Nation, the Choctaw, Suzan Harjo, and—unsung in the media—the longtime work on this in hostile environs by Washington Post columnist Mike Wise. Credit should also go to RG3, the team quarterback whose greatness—on display even in last night’s terrible loss to the Cowboys—has made the team relevant for the first time in fifteen years. Credit should also go to team owner Dan Snyder for being so ineffably obnoxious about the whole issue, it makes anyone who stands alongside him feel like they need to shower with steel wool afterwards. And credit should truly go to Bob Costas for having the guts to take what is still a minority position and put it to the widest possible audience.

I believe that support for the “Redskins” name is 1,000 miles wide and one inch thick. Most people just, in the words of former coach Joe Gibbs, “haven’t really thought about it.” Bob Costas now has people thinking about it, and that is the first step toward a long overdue change.


A History Lesson for the Redskins Owner

    Redskins owner Dan Snyder, in the wake of his widely reviled defamation suit against the Washington City Paper, has been on a DC media charm offensive to tell his side of the story. Unfortunately “Dan Snyder” and “charm” go together like “Glenn Beck” and “sanity.” He’s the sort of person who comes off as both nasty and needy at the same time. Think Dina Lohan, if Dina Lohan looked like George Costanza with hair. But in one interview, with Lavar Arrington, Mike Wise and others on 106.7 The Fan, Snyder really crossed the line from “charm offensive” to racist historical whitewash.

Part of Snyder’s suit against the City Paper is that a drawing of him was anti-Semitic. Mike Wise asked if this was a somewhat hypocritical given that he owns a billion dollar team named after a racial slur. Snyder responded,

"Obviously, you have not read some of the history of the Redskins and the name of the team and what it means," he said. "What's most important is that what the Redskins are all about is the tradition of the Redskins, fighting for old D.C., victory. The terminology of the Redskins is not meant to be offensive, and to compare that is silly."

What lies. It’s like saying the Ku Klux Klan burned crosses because they liked praying and roasting marshmallows at the same time.

It’s especially disgusting because this year marks a golden anniversary Snyder’s team is doing their best to ignore: it’s the 50th year since the team desegregated. The beloved local team was the last NFL franchise to integrate, and only did so after a rising protest movement and the Kennedy administration forced the issue. The roadblock to integration was the man who brought the team to Washington and, not at all coincidentally, bestowed the team with the name “Redskins”:  George Preston Marshall. Marshall was without question a great football innovator who invented rituals like halftime shows, the Pro Bowl, and was an early popularizer of the forward pass. He was also a stone bigot. At the time, the Redskins were the southern-most team in the NFL, and Marshall marketed his team to a white Southern audience by playing Dixie before games and saying proudly, “We'll start signing Negroes when the Harlem Globetrotters start signing whites.” This is why the team is called Redskins: it was a racist name from a racist owner.

Marshall was stubborn to keep the team white despite the fact that the Redskins were simply a terrible team, winning one game the previous season.  This ratcheted up the pressure on Marshall who found himself facing a struggle with civil rights activists and the Kennedy administration over his racist policies.  Marshall’s active bedfellows in keeping the Redskins white included the American Nazi Party, and the KKK who marched in front of the stadium. On the other side were organizations like the NAACP, the Congress On Racial Equality (CORE), and JFK's Interior Secretary, Stewart L. Udall. It was a saga that would end with the signing of the Redskins' first black players, Ron Hatcher and future hall-of-famer Bobby Mitchell, fifteen years after the rest of the league had integrated.

Udall is historically given the lion's share of credit for forcing Marshall's hand. While he certainly deserves recognition, it's unlikely that he would have pressed as hard without the actions of civil rights activists and ordinary black residents of DC, who had been protesting segregation for years outside of the old Griffith Stadium.

In 1961, the Redskins moved into brand new, publicly financed DC Stadium (now RFK Stadium); the shiny new facility quickly became a battleground, with competing demonstrations held by segregationists and civil rights activists alike. Built with $24 million in public funds, the new stadium sat on land owned by the National Capital Parks and thus by the federal government. Udall used this leverage against Marshall, threatening in March 1961 to rescind the federal government's lease to use the stadium if the franchise owner didn't sign a black player.

Under banners reading “Keep Redskins White!” the American Nazi Party and the Ku Klux Klan paraded around the stadium in protest. But civil rights activists countered with pickets of their own, with signs reading: "People who can't play together, can't live together.”

Marshall was intransigent, declaring that “no one of intelligence has ever questioned my theories on race or religion.” But in a city with a new black majority that could not even vote in a presidential elections at the time, the fight over a football team struck a chord with residents inspired by successes of the Civil Rights movement elsewhere, and the protests continued.

When Udall compromised and gave Marshall another season to integrate, civil rights activists took it upon themselves to make an issue of Marshall's racism wherever the team went. The local NAACP and CORE chapters picketed Marshall's home and organized a boycott of the 1961 season. Black and white civil rights activists picketed outside each and every home game that season, forcing down attendance and causing Kennedy to decline an invitation to attend the new stadium's inaugural game. On the other side of the country, activists and union members organized a boycott of a Redskins-Rams game in Los Angeles. The Redskins exhibition games in the south and the west also became targets for protesters. Pressure mounted on league commissioner Pete Rozelle to intervene.

Marshall buckled and came up with a list of black players that he would try to draft, headed by Syracuse’s star running back Ernie Davis. Davis refused to play for Marshall, and was traded to the Cleveland Browns for the great Bobby Mitchell who finally broke the league’s most stubborn color line. Today, Snyder’s ignorance – or mendacity – regarding the team’s integration is a slap in the face to Bobby Mitchell and every African American player who had to deal with Marshall’s stewardship. Dan Snyder’s profound insensitivity to this question is further evidence that his charm offensive will prove futile. But the “offensive” part? That bit he has down pat.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

My great great grand father was chumash, using a redskin name means a person or team are very proud, and give 125 percent to honer the name. Bob Costas does not speack for my family. Margaret