Monday, October 7, 2013

7 comments Rick Reilly Basks in the Glory of a Reaction to His Washington Redskins Column

I didn't cover the Rick Reilly column about the Redskins here, mostly because it had been covered other places and it was so bad. Sometimes an article is just so blatantly awful I don't cover it here. Rick's justification for keeping the Redskins name was basically "I have a family member who is a Native American and he isn't offended, plus I know other people who live on a reservation and aren't offended." I don't really care if the Redskins change their name or not. I use the term "Redskins" mostly because that's the team name right now and I don't feel like being cutesy and giving them a different name like I'm making some political statement.

So Rick Reilly goes through his mailbag and reacts to his readers reacting to his column. Both Rick and (not shockingly) some of those who write in show a sufficient display of dumbassery in discussing this topic. I think Rick did what many sportswriters do on Twitter, which is pick out the most ignorant response during a discussion to refute, because choosing the lowest hanging fruit makes your opponent seem less intelligent and your own point stronger. Because Rick is able to go through his mailbag and publishes the responses he wants to publish, he's going to pick the opposing arguments that he can best refute. Rick has a point of view and he's simply not going to publish an email written to him that makes an excellent point he can't refute.

My inbox flowed red this week after my column on the flap over the Washington Redskins name. You’d have thought I shot a boxful of kittens.

Or defended a term that some people consider to be at best racist and at worst very disrespectful towards Native Americans.

Some thought I should be fired. Some thought I should be elected. Some called me racist. Some thanked me for honoring a race. 

Some thought writing the column was a good way to get attention so that Rick can feel relevant again. Rick's supposed basic point in the column, which he repeats a few times in this mailbag, was that a bunch of white people should not be able to decide whether "Redskins" is offensive or not. Of course while saying a bunch of white people shouldn't decide, Rick also came to the conclusion some Native Americans didn't find the term offensive and seemed to argue in favor of keeping "Redskins" as the name of the Washington NFL franchise. Rick doesn't see it that way of course. He was just a white guy giving a voice to those who he believed couldn't stand up for themselves. This is ironic because he accuses those who want to change the Redskins name of speaking for Native Americans and states these Native Americans can speak for themselves. Well, apparently those who don't oppose the Redskins name change can't speak for themselves.

Three reservation high schools I spoke with, in fact, use “Redskins” as their team name and wear it with pride.

These are reservations who are choosing to have the name "Redskins" used. They are not an NFL team whose fans dress up like pigs or wear headdresses and most of the fans and players around this team have nothing to do with the term "Redskins."

I’ve even felt strongly both ways. In 1991, for Sports Illustrated, I wrote that it was time to change the name. But in the 22 years since, I’ve grown to understand that it’s not up to me.

What really happened is that after he posted the column Rick remembered or found out on the Internet that he had already written a column in favor of changing the Redskins name. He thought, "Shit, how am I going to talk myself out of this one," and then proceeded to make the feeble excuse that he wants the name to come to a vote only among Native Americans. Yeah, that's what he was saying, despite the fact not once in his original column did he specifically state it should be up to Native Americans to decide on whether to change the name or not. The whole intent of his column just wasn't mentioned in the column, that's all. The closest Rick came was saying this:

Too late. White America has spoken. You aren't offended, so we'll be offended for you.

That's it. Then after Rick realizes he wrote a column 22 years ago that stated the exact opposite of what he wrote in 2013 he states he was just pointing out the name change shouldn't be up to him, but to Native Americans. Nevermind he never actually said those words in the original column.

It should be an issue decided by Native Americans, not this sudden wave of almost entirely white, politically correct sports writers.

That's not what the column said. I've read it five times. It states some Native Americans aren't offended so changing the Redskins name isn't necessarily offensive to Native Americans. That's the essential hypothesis and point of view of the column. Rick even finds Native Americans who aren't offended by the Redskins name as support for his point of view that the name isn't offensive to all Native Americans. If the column was about a vote or urging Native Americans to chime in on the issue, why didn't he actually suggest this? If giving pro-Redskins Native Americans a forum was the intent, then why not allow a pro-Redskins person to write the column or have a pro-Redskins and anti-Redskins person write columns arguing their side of the issue? This was a case of a white sportswriter wanting to affect the debate, which is what he accuses other white sportswriters of doing.

For some of you, if even one person is insulted, that’s enough to dump it. For others, it’s a non-issue that only smokescreens so many real problems Native Americans have.

For others, it is just a nickname that might be offensive and could be changed.

I know one thing, though. The larger the social media tsunami grows, the easier it comes for people to react easily and quickly, the more I notice a backlash against any stance that doesn’t fit the Consensus Opinion.

I love how Rick is hiding behind the "I don't fit with the mainstream and that's why you didn't like my column" excuse for why his column received such negative reactions. He chooses not to focus on whether his opinion was poorly supported and half-assed. "My father-in-law and is a Native American and doesn't mind the name. Case closed. Want to hear a joke about dentists?"

The whole "I don't fit with the Consensus Opinion" excuse is a good way to blame the reaction of others to an insensitive column a person may write. If I were a sportswriter writing a column about the NBA and stated "LeBron James looks like a monkey when he dunks the ball," then I could hide behind the fact my offensive sentence just isn't part of the Consensus Opinion and that's why you don't like it.

It shows how out of touch Rick is that he thinks the backlash against the column was simply because his view didn't fit in with the opinion of (what he perceives to be) the majority.

Is that what you want from your sports columnists, someone to simply parrot what the cool kids are saying? Because that will never be me. 

Probably because Rick Reilly doesn't know any cool kids to parrot. Also, if he considers himself a sports columnist then he is wrong. He is a writer who tangentially writes about sports.

Then Rick starts printing the emails he received about the column:

Thank you for standing up for the right of white people to call native Americans “redskins.” I mean, African-Americans call each other the N-word, so why would anyone object if an NBA team called itself the N's?

Yeah Rick, thanks for standing up for those white people who not-so-secretly want to use racial slurs without any type of retribution.

I mean, in the 1930s there was a colorful term for every ethnic group. But there certainly was no prejudice; it was just good clean fun.

Yeah, it was just good clean fun with no prejudice. What ever happened to the "colorful" terms for every ethnic group? This kraut writing the email, Eric Schenk (whose name is of German descent), wants to know because he's a boche who hates political correctness.

Thank you, Rick Reilly for standing up for the right to call any group any name you want as long as there are some members of the group who don’t mind.
– Eric Schenk (Mill Valley, Calif.) 

Thank you for standing up for racism and hatred. Find one black guy who doesn't mind offensive slang and just start spewing hatred, because it's all right, there's a black guy who doesn't mind. Besides, it's not fair other races get to be racist and Eric from California doesn't. Rick, these are the type of people who support your column. You may need to reconsider your position.

Well played, sir.

Really Rick? "Well played?" I'm not politically correct, but I'm not sure bemoaning you can't use racial slurs and saying there was no prejudice in the 1930's is "well played," it's ignorance.

Just because a few groups DON’T find Redskins offensive doesn’t mean we ignore the groups that DO.
– Shawn (Los Angeles)

Exactly. The fact Rick can find Native Americans who don't find the term offensive doesn't mean it isn't offensive. My father always taught me that if I'm not sure something is offensive then think how I would feel if everyone heard what I was saying. At this point, saying Redskins in public isn't offensive, so I would have no problem using the term. On the other hand, I will not do this:

Would you feel comfortable going up to someone of Native American descent and asking them, “Hey, are you a redskin?”
-Michael (Tuscon, Arizona)

I probably wouldn't do this, but of course I don't use the word "Redskin" for anything except to talk about the NFL team in Washington.

That’s just the point. “Redskins” is not a word that comes up on reservations, according to the people I interviewed. They only hear it as part of their own schools’ teams or the NFL team in Washington.

So because a lot of people don't know what the word means then we should keep using it? Fine, then the word isn't inherently offensive to Native Americans, but if some people don't know what the word means then what's the point of having a sports franchise named after that word? They could just be the Washington Sidurskis and we could call it a day.

It only symbolizes their teams and the pride they feel in their school.

How do they take pride in a word they don't know what it means and don't hear often?

To take that away just because a few find it offensive? I’m not convinced that’s fair.

Maybe it's not fair, but Rick is failing on all counts here. He's saying the word doesn't come up on reservations and has no meaning outside of sports, but it's unfair to take away the word because it symbolizes their teams and the pride they feel in school. It confuses me. It's not the word that symbolizes the pride, it's the word's connotation with their sports team, so calling the sports team "Cockaroos" would also symbolize pride.

You do realize that in arguing that “we” (whites?) shouldn’t make father-knows-best decisions on behalf of all Native Americans, and leave "Redskins" alone, you’re kind of speaking on behalf of all Native Americans?
- Matt (Tuckahoe, N.Y.)

Read the piece again. Nowhere in it did I say don’t change the name.

No, but you did attempt to state the word "Redskins" isn't offensive because your father-in-law doesn't think it is offensive. That's kind of stupid. Rick's piece also didn't state that it should be up to Native Americans on whether to change the name or not and he claims that was the entire point of the column. So clearly, Rick felt his readers need to reach certain conclusions based on what he was writing. I took the piece to mean "Maybe we shouldn't change the name" since it was mostly a pro-"Keep the Redskins Name" piece. Call me crazy.

Nowhere did I say “leave Redskins alone.” I’d be all for changing the name if the majority of Native Americans believed it was a slur.

Here's the catch...nowhere in the piece did Rick actually state this. It's what Rick wants to state in retrospect, but he didn't state in the piece. So his "I didn't write that in the piece" excuse fails for me because his entire claimed purpose for the column wasn't actually stated in the column.

Then Rick includes an email from Tom Friend, who is white and a contributor to ESPN. Rick doesn't think white people should decide the name of the Washington NFL team, but he sure doesn't mind getting the point of view of white people does he? It's interesting how Rick doesn't think the opinion of white sportswriters count unless that white sportswriter agrees with him.

This is exactly what I was thinking of writing. Thank you, Rick Reilly, for beating me to it. Couldn’t agree more. As someone who grew up at RFK Stadium, not one time have Redskins fans disrespected American Indians. They do not tomahawk chop like Atlanta Braves fans.

I tend to refrain from the Tomahawk Chop. I enjoy it when others do it, but I refrain because I think it makes me look silly.

The Redskins make no mockery of American Indians. Their fans sing only: “Hail To the Redskins.” Their emblem is one of honor. It is, in fact, almost identical to what is on the side of an Indian Head nickel -- which was a collector’s item when I was a boy.

I'm guessing Tom Friend was a boy back when every ethnic group had its own nickname and the racial slurs and segregation were all in good fun. And of course anything that is a collector's item can't be racist or in bad taste.

If there are high school teams on Indian reservations that go by the name “Redskins,” then why can’t the team in D.C.?
-Tom Friend (ESPN the Magazine, via Facebook)

Also notice how Rick made it very, very clear a colleague of his agreed with him. The more important the person, the more influential the opinion, right?

That final line -- “Kind of like a reservation” -- seems to have either infuriated people or delighted them. A lot of readers said it was insulting to Native Americans. Some said it opened their eyes to a new way to look at the problem. One blogger wrote that it was “a fireable offense.” Oh, please. Largely white media deciding what’s best for Native Americans, putting up verbal borders to “protect” them, as though they can’t stand up for themselves, has a scent of it, which is all I alluded to.

I can agree with this. Native Americans have stood up for themselves, which I'm guessing is just a point that Rick wants to continue to ignore. 

It's not like Native American groups haven't protested against the use of the Redskins name. I guess these people don't count because Rick doesn't want them to count. He is acting like no Native American tribe nor organization has found issues with the "Redskins" team name. I do like the irony of Rick railing against largely white media deciding what is best for Native Americans by writing a column as a white media member to stand up for the Native Americans who don't mind the team name "Redskins." I guess Rick feels the Native Americans who agree with him can't stand up for themselves.

(1) How many natives would need to be offended by the name before you thought the name was offensive enough to change? (2) Why is it so important to you that the name remains the same?
-Maggie Lindstrom (Seattle)

2) Not important to me at all. I don’t think I should have a say. Your first question is what’s important to me. Answer: I’d want to see more Native American voices calling for a change before I’m convinced. Now, I only hear a few.

"A few more" Native American voices need to call for change. Thanks for being so specific, Rick.

Not to mention, only a few Native Americans have stated they don't mind the name. Maybe there should be a vote among Native Americans just like Rick (didn't) explicitly state should happen in his original column.

Finally a journalist in a profession of “sheeple.” Glad to see there’s still a man in your profession. PC wuss country we live in, drives me nuts.
- Brad (Odenton, Md.) 

Now drop down and give me 50 pushups!

Your argument that some Natives have accepted the name and made it their own is flawed, because it still does not mean that this name is not offensive. Being a tribal member from the Chippewa Cree tribe in Rocky Boy, I take offense to the name. I have been to a Washington game and that was the last time I will ever set foot on their corporate land. The things I saw at the stadium and surrounding community are extremely demeaning to Native Americans. Having people play “dress up” with replicas of sacred cultural items is insulting and it gives our children a cartoon version of who we are. I know it’s my job to teach my children right from wrong, but for this garbage to be allowed in our country is embarrassing. The people you interviewed are not representatives of all Native Americans, and your presentation of such is one-sided. I hope you don’t ever have to sit down with your child and explain why other people are playing dress up with what your people consider respected aspects of your culture. Then you can tell your child, “Nothing’s wrong, because those people say they’re honoring us. 
Zane Rosette (Rocky Boy, Mont.)
This is the best argument to get rid of the name — all the offending costumery and store-bought face paint and Halloween headdresses that go with it. More than the name itself, the Native Americans I spoke with were most offended by the inconsiderate fan hoopla that rides shotgun with it.

Oh, so it is the fault of the fans that the name "Redskins" is offensive? I get it. Blame the fans, because we all know if the Washington NFL team was called the "Boa Constrictors" then the fans would all show up in headdresses and paint their face like an Indian still, right? It could never be the name of the team that causes idiot fans to dress up like this could it? Never...

I have zero doubt the Redskins will change the name sooner or later. This idea that “It just SOUNDS like an insult,” right or wrong, is not going to go away.

And also, if something sounds like an insult then it probably is an insult. After all, an insult is a word used that a person could take offense to. It's how the word is taken by the listener. Does calling the Indian soccer team "a bunch of cute little meerkats" sound like an insult? Probably not, but neither does saying the Chinese soccer team are "just some really tough red pandas." It doesn't sound like an insult, but it's how the listener takes the comment that determines if it is an insult or not. 

I get that, but why is the pressure only on the Redskins to change? Why not your stomach-turning Braves, the Cleveland Indians, and Florida State Seminoles, whose foam tomahawk chant is purely Hollywood and has no origin in Native culture.

The Braves have mostly quit using the imagery of an American Indian, while the "Indians" isn't an offensive name, and the "Seminoles" is the name of an Indian tribe. I'm not saying the actions of these teams like the Tomahawk Chop, Chief Wahoo, and the guy dressed like a Native American who plants a spear at midfield have anything to do with Native culture, but the name of the teams isn't considered to be an inherently offensive word. 

 Who thought of the name doesn’t matter.

It does matter to an extent. If a billionaire owner calls his team the "Redskins" then this is different from a team on a reservation calling themselves the "Redskins." I don't know why, but it feels different. 

What matters is how many Native Americans feel they’re being insulted. A few? Maybe it’s not worth changing. A lot? Get rid of it.

Or we could just ask Rick's father-in-law what he thinks and then let him decide for us. That's close to what Rick did in his original column. 

If there were no teams that had ever been named Indians, Redskins, Seminoles, etc., but many named Cowboys, would the PC crowd today be demanding that every sports league add a Native American team name in the pursuit of equity? I’m just wondering.
-  John Costacos (Seattle)

Again, these are the people who 100% agree with you Rick.  

I wish this article would get National attention! Redskin fans needed to read something like this and it’s nice to finally have a person in the “media” report the facts instead of creating them. … Well Done! 
- Victor Corado (Manassas, Va.)

This is either a beautifully carved “insult” or you somehow think ESPN has an office in every city.

Why would this be an insult, Rick? He's complimenting you and it doesn't SOUND like an insult, so it must not be an insult, right? 

I don't find the word "Redskins" offensive, but I'm also not the type of person who would get offended by that word. One thing remains clear, Rick wrote a column where he searched out people who agreed with his point of view and blatantly ignored there are Native Americans who opposed his point of view. It's interesting Rick tells us that white people shouldn't be able to decide whether to get rid of the Redskins name or not nor feel free to speak for those who oppose the use of the name "Redskins" when he takes it upon himself to speak for those who don't oppose the use of the name. 

One thing is clear. Rick Reilly is still terrible.  


Robert said...

I've never understood the rabid defence some fans have over the Redskin name. I get that you're a fan of the team - but that makes you a Washington fan, not a "Redskins" fan. There's nothing special about the name, it's your town, your players etc.

I mean, I'd gladly cheer for the Ottawa Senators even if they were named the Ottawa Kidney Stones (though, I'd wonder why they went with that name - maybe because their team is undersized by tough?).

To me the issue is relatively simple - some people (including many Natives) find the term derogatory. The term itself has a history of being derogatory. It has fallen into disuse in recent times, but ask - would you be comfortable with the New York Wops as a team name? I probably wouldn't.

But then again what do I expect of Reilly. You know, I used to really love his work way back in the early-mid 90s. Maybe it was the rose-tinted glasses of youth, but he was a good writer.

Anonymous said...

I thought Eric Schenk was being sarcastic.

Bengoodfella said...

Robert, I don't care either way if the name is changed. It doesn't offend me, but I understand some people are offended. I did some research on the name and it does seem to definitely have a negative connotation about it. I actually wish the Panthers would change their name. I think a black cat as a mascot is bad luck.

I don't expect much from him. I'm surprised he changed his view on this issue, though I am guessing he didn't even know he had changed his view.

I would cheer for my favorite teams even if they had a different last name too. If the Braves are the Atlanta Losers I would buy as much apparel as possible.

Anon, I'm one of those annoying people who is sarcastic all the time and can't always read others sarcasm when it is in print. I didn't get the sarcasm when I read it.

Anonymous said...

I love how this idiot asks why they don't get rid of the Seminoles name at Florida State. If he did a little research (isn't that required to be a journalist?) he would know that the Seminole tribes put it to a vote and decided to allow FSU to use the name as long as they continued to get royalties from the use. They actually ASKED the people who would potentially be affected by the name before deciding to keep the name. Do some research Rick, you hack.

jacktotherack said...

First, let me say that Reilly's defense of keeping the name is terribly constructed, which doesn't come as any surprise because Rick Reilly is terrible at everything.

Having said that, Reilly does have a point when he notes this is a movement being driven by PC sports-writers who seem, oh, I don't know, 40-50 years late to the party. While Gregggg is quick to smarmily (is that a word) note that he has been against the name for years, PK is just now hopping on the train seeking a name change. I'm sorry but when people like these two are acting as voices of a movement, the movement is flawed in some way.

I question the intentions and sincerity of Gregg, King, and many, MANY others who have been so outspoken about the name change. To me it seems like an empty, shallow gesture to be so outspoken about a cause that doesn't personally impact 99% of the people who have been so vocal about it. I just want to ask these people if they are so concerned about the mental well-being of Native Americans what are they currently doing to assist Native Americans? What are they doing to help combat issues of alcoholism and low child literacy rates on reservations? Are they currently making monetary donations to help endow scholarships for a Native American student at a local university?

To me being outspoken about this issue is just another way to say, "Look at me, look at how in touch I am. I am an everyman and I care about everyone," when in actuality it is a pointless gesture and their support for the name change does nothing to improve the lives of Native Americans and only serves to pump up their already inflated egos.

I graduated from the University of Illinois and got to experience this type of stuff first hand with Chief Illiniwek. I loved the Chief as a kid, his performances were amazing and the tradition it represented spanned generations at U of I. When he was retired, I was disappointed but I understood why it had to be. But the issue I always had is the people that were most vocal about getting rid of the Chief seemed to care way more about being noticed and being the loudest voice in the room than they did about the welfare of Native Americans. That has always been the part that bothers me, and it is the same thing that bothers me with those so vocal about wanting the Redskins to change their name.

Snarf said...


I tend to agree with your sentiments and I think you worded this very well. I'm no Redskins fan and I won't lose a ton of sleep if they change the name. What bothers me most in the whole process is, as you point out, those who are the loudest in opposition seem to just be looking for others to notice them on the "right" side of the issue.

Bengoodfella said...

Anon, I didn't know that. Of course I also didn't write a column including the Seminoles name as racist in some way.

Jack, I tend to agree this has sort of become a hot topic among writers who make a big deal (or no deal at all, but know others will notice) in not using the Redskins name. It's sort of the hot button issue right now and many sportswriters want to fall on the side of "being right." I think where Rick got it right is that these writers don't really have a skin in the game and so it is kind odd for them to lead the charge.

I still found great irony in Rick saying he wants to give a voice to the anti-name change crowd while criticizing those writers who give a voice to the pro-name change crowd.

Snarf, it's just a team name. It's good business to change the name. Perhaps that's the wrong reason, but imagine how much apparel would be sold with "the Washington Legislators" written on it.