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Baffoe: Helping You Defend Using The Washington Football Team Name

Washington Redskins. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Washington Redskins. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Tim Baffoe - clean background Tim Baffoe
Tim Baffoe attended the University of Iowa before earning his de...
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By Tim Baffoe-

(CBS) Being a sports fan is illogical. Breaking news, I know. But it’s a good sort of illogical, and I don’t say that just to insulate my ego as one who is a big sports fan.

We need some aspects of psychological silliness in our lives so that we don’t go insane with the otherwise crushing existence that most of us partake in on a daily basis. Celebrating your child being potty trained as though s/he broke new ground in humanity’s advancement is completely illogical, but treating the kid like an East German swimmer where rewards are seen as weakness and where accomplishment is only an avoidance of failure isn’t exactly a healthy alternative.

Taking pictures of food you ordered at a restaurant that somebody else prepared holds not a scrap of intelligence, but you need to feel temporarily good about yourself (or at least superior to others) by implying on social media “Hey, I’m here and can spend money on this, and you’re not and/or can’t, losers. Be jealous of me.”

It’s with such tiny examples of mundane irrationalities that we get by without having to realize we’re each just one of almost 7.2 billion people and not crucial to the world. The same goes for sports fandom. Having an emotional investment in others playing a game that we have no control over is not all that different from rooting for the weather when you really think about it. And your Bears jersey on your adult self is about as wise a choice as if I wore a jersey that said “75 and sunny.”

I love 75 and sunny. I root for it every day. Some days 75 and sunny makes me very happy. Other days it doesn’t show up to play. And sometimes I call talk radio to vent about how the Powers That Be should be fired because 75 and sunny is so inconsistent or how I don’t care if the earth might be on some performance-enhancing global warming junk—I just want my 75 and sunny.

And I just want the sports teams I like to do well also and get pretty bothered when they don’t, even though they don’t put food on my table or gas in my car. I fully embrace that visceral, illogical reaction.

But then there is the really illogical of sports illogical. The stuff that goes beyond “all in good fun” or “love of the game,” where entertainment is allowed to supersede an actual legitimate thought process. Aspects of games that even within the irrationality previously described have no rational argument for existing. The idea that punching other people in the face during a hockey game is a positive thing. The “unwritten rules” that say you can’t give the other team a sad when you get a big hit. And the endorsement—actively or passively—of a racist name for a franchise.

The Chicago Bears take on Washington on Sunday, and the discussion that has been taken up by several important national voices regarding the latter’s offensive team name has also swelled this week here in Chicago, as it will in multiple cities of Washington opponents this season.

The Washington team name is racist and offensive. I’ve explained this already and won’t rewrite a previous column here, and others have explained it even better. But no matter how many cogent thoughts against being so obviously racist are brought up, many people feel they are justified in being willfully ignorant on multiple levels regarding the team name.

Something that really bothers me about the tweets and Facebook posts I see (and what I’m sure is a fertile crop of brilliant comments underneath Internet articles), though, is that there is almost zero attempts to form an actual argument when defending the epithet. There’s a lot of the typical social media “retorts” of belittling a writer or speaker rather than breaking down his or her points (the mark of not having a good argument), but for a bunch of people who feel strongly enough about an issue to actual type words on the intrawebs about it, I have yet to see a non-columnist make an effort for the endorsement of further subjugating the survivors of generations of genocide.

C’mon. Be better than that, people. What’s the point of backing a sports team name that intelligent society has established is awful if you’re not going to have genuine conviction? If the name is “on trial,” to use a hot journalistic buzz phrase, you’re acting as pretty poor defense attorneys.

Are you just going to let your client—racism—twist in the wind? Don’t even our most vile people and aspects of America deserve a proper defense? Get it together, people. Have an argument that you can back up with evidence instead of merely casting aside well-thought-out argument against the Washington team name, labeling it as “this is so stupid,” without a noble effort of actually proving the argument wrong.

Now, when you attempt to formulate a substantial case for keeping a slur as the identifier for a football team, you need to make sure to avoid a few traditional pitfalls. It’ll get mentioned during the Bears broadcast, so you need to be prepared in case you’re watching the game near someone, you know, smart. I’m here to help so that you don’t parrot easily-defeated talking points in championing your worthy, obtuse cause. So be sure to avoid the following stand-bys of really bad pseudo-arguments:

It’s not a slur

Yes, it is. Not offending you doesn’t mean something isn’t offensive.

Those who aren’t Native Americans can’t have a problem with the team name

Several times I’ve come across something to the effect of “You’re not an Indian, so you have no say in the matter.”

Do you really want to agree with this guy?

Are you sure?

See, those fighting to keep the team name predominantly aren’t Indians either. And what is wrong with members of a larger group sticking up for and trying to help members of a smaller, abused group? You’re saying that people should ignore an act of injustice they see? “Shut up and let the Indians fight this for themselves.” No, not terrible people don’t do that.

The anti-name movement is “PC run amok”

Openly considering political correctness as a bad thing let’s most people know that you’re angry about people telling you that your prejudice against minorities isn’t socially acceptable. Nobody who isn’t prejudiced has a problem with pejorative terms for racial, ethnic, religious, or sexual groups being eradicated. Political correctness is allowing for minority groups—ones that are usually historically oppressed—to not be called by terms they really find offensive. There is no equivalency between making someone’s life a little easier and the tragedy of making your life more inconvenient by omitting a word from your vocabulary. Don’t be this guy:

Also, using this excuse is not using an actual argument. It’s avoiding the subject.

People are just “looking for something to be offended by”

Step back and understand how stupid that sounds. Who besides a handful of charlatans who exploit prejudice for profit wakes up every day and thinks, “Wow, I can’t wait to come across some acts of social injustice!”? And, again, you’re not making an actual argument against those taking offense.

Then what’s next? Banning animal names if PETA hates them?

PETA is a lot of stupid things, but it’s not that. Bulldogs and Wildcats haven’t been historically oppressed groups or victims of systematic genocide, so it’s not only a really stupid comparison to make, but it might also really bother an Indian to hear you minimize their history like that and equate them with animals. I promise that’s a rally killer there.

Also, animals can’t comprehend sports, despite us finding high entertainment in Youtube videos of bears racing monkeys. Even more so, animals can’t comprehend prejudice. So when a tiger sees an image of a tiger on a uniform or on a fan’s handmade sign or sees a person painting his face with stripes, it doesn’t bring to mind centuries of its fellow tigers being subjugated and eradicated and its culture being co-opted and caricaturized. The tiger doesn’t contemplate its own condition as juxtaposed to the rest of society that has marginalized it.

Well… um… well, I’m Irish, and the Notre Dame team name and mascot offend me

No, they don’t, so stop lying to minimize the issue. And if Irish Americans genuinely had a problem with the Fighting Irish—which they don’t—then change it. I’d be as much a fan of Notre Dame Fartwagons football as I am now because I don’t root for a name because I’m not weird like that.

Weird that so many people are all of a sudden concerned about this

Ten years ago the Washington name issue didn’t bother me. That doesn’t mean I can’t care about it now. Ten years ago I wasn’t aware of it being problematic for many people. Ten years ago I had a very different understanding of racism.

And because less people cared about it years ago doesn’t negate its importance today. Ignorance doesn’t end until enough people are no longer ignorant. That’s how historically stupid things have been made to stop. So do not rhetorically ask “Why is this such a big deal now?”

NOBODY CARES

But you were just saying how so many peop… nevermind.

Okay, you want nobody to care because approaching issues of social justice in your precious sports makes you very uncomfortable, either because it causes you to question your own crappy morals or puts you up against people with a more cosmopolitan worldview than you. Newspapers, websites, and TV shows don’t spend time on things nobody cares about. That’s not how they go about making money.

Okay, fine, nobody cared about this before, so why now?

That’s incredibly wrong. YOU didn’t care about it before.

In 1992 American Indian activist Susan Harjo and others petitioned to have the team’s trademarks cancelled and failed. Twenty years later another similar attempt was made. A protest during the Super Bowl in 1992 was also organized (after an anti-Braves—or more so an anti-“tomahawk chop”—protest was conducted during the 1991 World Series).

The largest Jewish organization in the country asked Daniel Snyder (who is Jewish and, therefore incapable of racial or ethnic insensitivity, according to Jerry Jones) to change the name back in 2000, citing how “In 1992 the Central Conference of American Rabbis, the Rabbinic arm of the Reform Jewish Movement, passed a resolution condemning professional sports teams whose names encourage stereotypical thinking. In addition, the resolution specifically ‘calls upon the Washington Redskins to change formally their name and to renounce all characterizations based on race or ethnic background.’”

There have been academic essays written on the protests and rhetorical approaches to Native American imagery and wording. People have cared. For a while.

(Famous person X) agrees with me, so I must be right

For every Rick Reilly “bringing up good points” I give you Sherman Alexie. For every Darrell Green I give you Notah Begay. For every Joe Gibbs I give you Bob Costas. And speaking of…

Typical Costas—screw him

Costas is by no means everything I want in a sportscaster. He can be smug and sometimes bring inappropriate gravitas to various aspects of entertainment. He is also on the Mt. Rushmore of sports TV media, and he came out to talk about this topic. That shows its significance.  As does any president doing so regardless of whether or not you line up with most of his (or someday her) politics (see next talking point).

But just because Costas makes us have a social conscience as it relates to football 17 Sunday nights a year, and just because sometimes he brings up some polarizing topics, neither discredits him nor means you should ignore the point. Just because you don’t like Bob Costas doesn’t make him wrong, but that would mean you actually have to, you know, listen.

Stop demanding sports media “stick to sports,” which is what this cop out is. That is demanding willful ignorance and desiring bad yet fixable aspects of sports and life to perpetuate.

Discrediting the issue because you don’t align yourself with certain politicians or groups backing it

“Well, Obama thinks the name should change, and I think he’s the personification of Satan, so by my inane transitive property, the name shouldn’t be changed.” Congratulations on being someone incapable of critical thinking. By that logic you are also opposed to hate crimes applying to sexual orientation, gender, and disability as well as kids eating healthier. That’s not how you go about being respected in an intelligent discussion.

Nor so by calling this a “liberal” issue. Equating the Left or Democrats or whatever label you want to give certain people to being anti-racist 1. Doesn’t work to discredit those people actually, and 2. Means that their political opposites are then racist. And the latter isn’t fair to those who consider themselves conservatives who actually are not racists.

It was “liberals,” by the way, that have fought for the rights of disenfranchised groups throughout this country’s history—even the abolitionist 19th century Republicans were the Left-leaning party of the day—and they’ve won. Over and over again. Maybe you don’t want to be on the wrong side of history with the segregationists, homophobes, etc.

Don’t we have other things to worry about?

This smacks of the deflection technique you tried to use by saying no one cares, remember?

Of course there are more pressing American issues at hand than the name of a football team. And if you can figure out a feasible way to list every issue in this country ranked by importance and then get all Americans, whether they be civilians or otherwise, to approach and solve them one by one in a uniform fashion, then I’m with you. While you’re not doing that, though…

A problem is a problem. If you have a hole in your roof and the garbage needs to be taken out, do you demand the teeming can in your kitchen not be moved until the roof hole is fixed? And lazy as we Americans can be, we are capable of multitasking.

Native Americans in comparison to the rest of us actually do have bigger fish to fry. And I respect if a team name isn’t as important to some of them as issues like poverty and substance abuse. But some of them and non-Natives can still be concerned with racism semantics AND those more dire issues. Again, multitasking.

And, really, if we have so many other important things to worry about, it’s pretty hypocritical of you to be wasting time watching football.

There’s a poll that says 90% of Native Americans are fine with the name

And a really flawed poll at that. Here’s one that says 73% of fans would be as much or more of a fan of the team if it changed its name.

But even if only 9% of American Indians had a problem with it, why does that make the issue insignificant? Attention to insensitivity toward various groups doesn’t work on a majority rules basis.

But the name honors Native Americans

Many fans of the team name may not have any actual malicious or oppressive intent. But racist is still racist. There is no honor in taking a slur and using it for a sports team, especially in a city where an extinct tribe used to reside. Especially when the man who gave the team its name was a documented awful racist.

That’s the real “history” behind the name, for those who like to use that word and “tradition” to justify this or any other stupid practice. It’s not an homage to war paint, as Daniel Snyder would lie to you. Because if there’s anyone who knows what’s offensive, it’s Snyder. Invoking neither “history” nor “tradition” is ever an argument for logic. They appeal to solely to emotion, which makes perfect since as to why they were the crux of Snyder’s recent zipped-too-fast-at-the-urinal plea to fans as he struggles to feebly maintain at least one of two things—his totally whacked hubris and merchandising profits from the name.

I could actually have a sort of odd respect for Snyder, at least in terms of smug honesty, if he came out and blatantly said, “Look, changing the name is a money thing. I fear a dip in sales of Washington football stuff. I’m not proud of profiting off of the pain of others, but, hey, this is the NFL.” Indians have been uprooted, subjugated, killed, and humiliated for profit for hundreds of years, so Snyder could at least try to “honor” them with honesty.

The Indians lost, so they should get over it

Yeah, um, no.

So avoid all those really bad points that dumb-down an important issue and make you look really pre-21st century. Use all the other ones you can think of that don’t fall under any of the above categories. Then I welcome your attempts to justify the name use. Please email me your newly-cogent defenses at tenfootmailbag@gmail.com, and I promise to read your thoughts if you do. Hooray productive discussions!

tim baffoe small Baffoe: Helping You Defend Using The Washington Football Team Name

Tim Baffoe

Tim Baffoe attended the University of Iowa before earning his degree from Governors State University and began blogging at The Score after winning the 2011 Pepsi Max Score Search. He enjoys writing things about stuff, but not so much stuff about things. When not writing for 670TheScore.com, Tim corrupts America’s youth as a high school English teacher and provides a great service to his South Side community delivering pizzas (please tip him and his colleagues well). You can follow Tim’s inappropriate brain droppings on Twitter @TimBaffoe , but please don’t follow him in real life. He grew up in Chicago’s Beverly To read more of Tim’s blogs click here.