By Dan Bernstein-
CBSChicago.com senior columnist
(CBS) I may not be the biggest fan of Phil Simms’ work as a CBS football analyst, but I have become a bigger fan of the man himself.
It takes some degree of courage to take any kind of controversial stand within the business of the NFL, and it matters when a primary television personality announces that he will no longer call one of the franchises by its name. For Simms, the team in Washington is now just that.
“My very first thought is that it will be Washington the whole game,” Simms told the AP yesterday. “I never really thought about it, but then it came up and it made me think about it. There are a lot of things that can come up in a broadcast, and I am sensitive to this.”
His announcement comes after both CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell cleared the way for such individual choices by making it clear publicly that neither would dictate the use of the racial slur “Redskins” over any conscientious objection. It now appears that Goodell is waging a passive/aggressive campaign against owner Daniel Snyder – instead of stripping the name and logo by imperial fiat, he’s content to let a slowly rising tide of distaste on league-affiliated media platforms float the name away.
Already numerous print outlets have decided to discontinue use of the word, and just today the Oneida Indian Nation and National Congress of American Indians have formally asked Twitter, Facebook and Google to remove the team’s verified accounts for violation of their respective stated policies on hate speech.
But nothing powers the NFL like television, and it matters that Simms has taken a stand.
His partner Jim Nantz is among those who will not. “It’s not my job to take a stance,” he said, setting up a broadcast that may sound notable for the contrasting approaches of the two.
Meanwhile, NBC’s Tony Dungy has also made his call. “I will personally try not to use Redskins and refer to them as Washington,” he wrote in an email to the AP. “Personal opinion for me, not the network.”
It would be nice if Dungy’s sensitivities also extended to gays who want to marry or gays who deserve to be considered equally human instead of condemned, but that I’m sure is asking too much of a man proud to receive an award from an anti-gay hate group. There’s some deeply contradictory stuff here, painfully obvious to everyone but Dungy.
More decisions will come from all of us in the media whether to make similar choices, and the Washington football team is the first, not the last. There’s a baseball team in Cleveland trying to do its own slow fade — out of tasteless, racist imagery (and if you want to see how far they’ve come in that effort, watch “Major League” sometime and take note of all the logos, tepees, tom-toms and tomahawks 25 years ago) — and one in Atlanta. Then there are the Kansas City Chiefs and that one NHL team with the cartoon Native American face on the sweater and the locker room floor.
No easy way exists to be perfectly consistent in figuring out what to say and what not to say, because what feels right and wrong to each speaker is always evolving. But this one in particular – the one in Washington — exists not on any slippery slope. It’s just wrong.
Phil Simms doesn’t want to say that ugly name anymore, and he doesn’t have to.
I have been more aware than ever of my use of the term over these many years on the air and will continue in my own effort to never use it again.