By Ryan Baker-
(CBS) What’s in a name?
The answer to that iconic question often depends upon who is asking it. A modern day Shakespearian tragedy is playing out over the continued and controversial use of the nickname “Redskins” by the NFL team in our Nation’s Capital.
Many in my profession have lined up on opposite sides, choosing between racial sensitivity or a questionable tradition. As an African-American man who’s experienced racism first hand, but also as a University Illinois graduate who reveres the outlawed Chief Illiniwek symbol, this issue presents me with a very challenging conundrum.
The intense debate over the offensive nature of the Redskins name and logo to Native Americans has forced me to face some embarrassing truths, not only about the Chief, but also the double standard in our society about the use of the “N-word.”
There was widespread outrage over the video that captured Riley Cooper, a white wide receiver for the Philadelphia Eagles, spewing the racial slur. Much of the vitriol came from within the African-American community, however it’s commonplace to hear the N-word exchanged, and even celebrated as a “members only” privilege of the black experience.
It is not exclusive to socioeconomic status either. I’m ashamed to admit it, but I along with several of my educated and accomplished contemporaries, have uttered the unflattering remark when we’re not in mixed company.
Through music and social media, it seems as though an entire generation has become desensitized to the N-word. The late and legendary Richard Pryor can take credit for infusing it into mainstream pop culture with his cutting edge comedy back in the 70’s. I’ll never forget his line in the movie “Silver Streak,” when he told a white bigot, “You don’t know me well enough to call me a n****r!”
The joke is more than a laughing matter today, as the entertainment world continues to profit off of the pain-filled pun. I was among the thousands in the sold-out crowd this summer at Soldier Field when Jay-Z repeatedly rapped the N-word to the rhythmic applause of a predominately white audience (I was actually more offended by hip hop wannabe Justin Bieber’s clownish ring entrance with Floyd Mayweather… I jokingly digress).
I believe that public disregard of political correctness privately influences the perception, at least subconsciously, of the black athletes who perform on the field and court, many of whom hail from the inner cities of urban America.
I understand how replacing the “er” with an “a” on the end has supposedly cleansed it to being an acceptable term of endearment, but the fact of the matter is, the N-word is a derogatory dagger created to demean and degrade an individual as being less than human.
Calling a person, or a sports team, a Redskin is no less harmful or hateful. Respect is the only name of the game.
Ryan Baker serves as CBS 2 Chicago′s lead sports anchor on the 5:00 PM, 6:00 PM and 10:00 PM weekday newscasts. He joined CBS 2 Chicago from WMAQ-TV in Chicago where he had worked as an anchor and reporter since 2003. Follow him on Twitter @RyanBakerSports, on Instagram @RyanBakerSports and on Facebook. You can read more of his CBS Chicago entries here.