USA Today published a powerful piece discussing the very real problem of racism in professional sports. This article is a must-read for anyone following the Donald Sterling situation and/or the calls upon the Washington NFL team to change its name.
Bell: Stubborn NFL needs to hear NBA’s message, stop using ‘Redskins’
Let the NBA’s sudden crisis send a message to Dan Snyder and the NFL: That issue involving the Washington “Redskins” could blow up in your face, too.
The NBA, led by Commissioner Adam Silver, took a bold step by essentially issuing the ownership death penalty as a response to the audio exposure of Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling. The league sent the message it will not tolerate racial venom.
Maybe this inglorious episode will resonate in the NFL, which also has an owner in its midst with the initials D.S., engaging in another form of race-hating.
It is 2014, yet the team name for the NFL franchise representing our nation’s capitol — “Redskins” — is a racial slur.
Snyder hasn’t budged since declaring to USA TODAY Sports last year he would “never” change his team’s name — which he would not be forced to do even if he loses a federal trademark case.
Even worse, he refuses to acknowledge his team name is offensive, despite mounting opposition from prominent Native American groups.
Fellow NFL owners and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell haven’t been moved to prod Snyder on the issue.
Snyder takes the position he’s honoring Native Americans by not changing the name, although I’ve had Native Americans tell me they felt disparaged when called “dirty redskins.”
Racism is racism.
On Tuesday, Oneida Indian Nation representative Ray Halbritter — a relentless critic of Snyder — hailed the NBA for taking “a courageous stand” while chastising the NFL.
In a statement, Halbritter added, “The NBA has shown leagues like the NFL that they have a moral responsibility to take disciplinary action against people like Dan Snyder, who also continues to proudly promote bigotry with the use of a dictionary-defined racial slur as his team’s name.”
Sadly, the NFL has had Snyder’s back, but the league should consider parallels to the NBA’s controversy.
For one thing, the mainstream reaction of disgust and outrage — and the quick withdrawal of corporate support — flowing from Sterling’s venom underscored the notion of what should not be tolerated in a progressive society.
If it’s wrong for Sterling to suggest not fraternizing in public with a black person, then what makes it right to continue fielding an NFL team with a name that is defined as a racial slur?
When details emerged about donations Sterling has made to the NAACP and other groups supporting African Americans, I couldn’t help but think of Snyder and the foundation he recently established — more than a decade since buying the team, amid extensive debate — to aid Native Americans.
That’s what comes with the territory of fielding a team named after a racial slur. You are associated with actions that call your motives into question.
Silver maintained he has enormous support from other NBA owners to force Sterling to sell the Clippers. Without such support, Sterling might have maintained his franchise.
NFL owners, who have been largely silent about Snyder’s issue, are keenly aware it threatens to spill beyond Snyder’s domain and touch them by association.
By not changing the name, Snyder has blown a huge opportunity to show social leadership.
I’ve talked to some NFL owners who support Snyder’s stance. I’ve also spoken with at least four owners — speaking anonymously, because of the sensitive nature of the topic — who expressed concerns about Snyder’s defiance.
Goodell has been firmly in Snyder’s corner. At the NFL meetings in Orlando in March, he talked about growing up in D.C. and considering the team’s name a badge of honor. That squares with Snyder’s argument about tradition.
Yet Goodell and NFL owners should take heed to the powerful statement of social responsibility delivered by Silver and NBA.
Sometimes, change is the right thing to do. And it’s better late than never.