Washington Redskins fan Chief Zee on the field before NFC Wild Card playoff game against the Seattle Seahawks at FedEx Field.
(Photo: Brad Mills, USA TODAY Sports)
I can't tell you how many times I've said the words "Washington Redskins." At one point in my career, I probably used the term at least 50 times a day. I said it on television and radio. I wrote it in the newspaper. Over the years, I've used it thousands of times, probably more than 10,000 by now.
It's time I stopped.
I live in Washington, and for three years, from 1985-87, I was the Redskins beat writer for The Washington Post. Then, and even now, saying "Redskins" has always come naturally to me. That word has been a significant part of my life - my professional life anyway - and a very happy, proud, fulfilling part of it. In talking about the team, or my career, I've used the name so often that I've never given it a second thought.
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But when I said the nickname this summer during a panel discussion, I stopped myself. For the first time, it didn't seem right to say it.
Why then? Why not last year? Or five years ago? Or when I covered the team? I think it was the cumulative effect of all the reporting on the issue in the past year or so, solid journalism that continually brings to the surface just how racist the term is to many in the Native American community. And even if only some Native Americans think it's racist, here's news for the rest of us, whether we want to hear it and deal with it or not: it's racist.
So, now that the 2013 NFL season has begun, it makes sense to me to stop using the word.
This is a personal decision, as it was for some of my colleagues in the sports media, led by Sports Illustrated's Peter King. I'm guessing others will eventually make this call. Why? It's the right thing to do. If that's not reason enough, try explaining and defending the nickname to a child. It's impossible.
Or, consider this: Could an expansion team enter any league in any sport today with the nickname "Redskins?" Of course not.
This brings us to the difficult position NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has put himself in on this issue. While he continues to steadfastly support the right of Washington's team to use the word "Redskins," he must consider how history will judge a commissioner who defends the continued use of a racist nickname by one of his league's teams.
The NFL would not make Goodell available for comment. The team said owner Dan Snyder had no comment.
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Twice in the past six weeks, however, Goodell has mentioned in radio interviews that he wants to "listen" on this issue. "We'll always listen and we'll always be open," he said on ESPN radio Aug. 1 when asked to compare his defense of the Washington nickname with his comments on Philadelphia Eagle Riley Cooper's racist slur, which were anything but a defense:
"Obviously wrong...insensitive and unacceptable," Goodell said about Cooper's language.
Then, Wednesday on Washington's 106.7 The Fan, Goodell seemed to go even further:
"Ultimately it is Dan's decision but it is something I want all of us to go out and make sure we are listening to our fans, listening to people that have a different view, and making sure we continue to do what is right. We want to make sure the team represents the strong tradition and history that it has for so many years. .... If we are offending one person we need to be listening and making sure we are doing the right things to address that."
They are definitely offending one person. They're probably offending hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions.
So, if Goodell is true to his word, and I think he will be, he is going to start "doing the right things to address" the issue.
Someday, hopefully very soon, the team will get a new nickname. Things are changing. How do I know? Here I am writing this column.