2013-09-23 14:41:00 - WASHINGTON, D.C. (September 23, 2013): A top sportswriter who attempted to defend the use of the word "Redskins" against growing attacks that it is racist and should be changed was immediately pilloried in turn by more than a dozen fellow writers, some going so far as to claim that his column was itself racist, notes a law professor organizing a legal challenge to the use of the name.
Although the term "Redskin" has been condemned by virtually every major American Indian organization – as well as by many other organizations, by court and agency findings, and even in dictionaries – as racist, Rick Reilly of ESPN blithely "cites anecdotal evidence from his father-in-law; references Native high school teams who play as the Redskins; digs up an old, hugely flawed poll of Indians; and ends with a laborious and offensive comparison of the name debate to an Indian reservation," as Indian Country noted.
Another, in a column entitled "Rick Reilly is Racist as Hell, Probably Won't Get Fired by ESPN," suggest that Reilly is so racist that both he and his editor should be fired: "[The final] sentence is
a fireable offense. . . . He’s proven himself so insensitive throughout the article that it almost doesn’t shock by the end, but this is the equivalent of making sharecropping or concentration camps into kickers for a column. Not only should Reilly be fired, but his editor should probably be fired for even letting this come to light."
A similar strong suggestion of racism was penned by Tim Marchman of Deadspin who wrote: "We don't know why he's essentially equating criticism of overtly racist iconography with the forced relocation of entire nations, or how anyone could possibly publish this; we're not sure we want to know."
Jonathan Weiler of the Washington Post compares Reilly to Rush Limbaugh: "Reilly's attempt to position himself as some stalwart truth-teller defending the right of Native Americans to call themselves what they want is the kind faux 'courage' that one expects to find among the Rush Limbaughs of the world."
The title of another piece at the Huffington Post says it all: "Rick Reilly's Outrageous 'Redskins' Defense Compares Protesting Name To Putting Native Americans On Reservations."
The title in The Atlantic is: "Rick Reilly Offers a Poor Defense of the Redskins Name." The SportsBank.net called it simply "Rick Reilly’s latest crapola."
The Nation had an even more pointed article title: "Rick Reilly and the Most Irredeemably Stupid Defense of the Redskins Name You Will Ever Read." It says: "Reilly has written a column in defense of the Redskins name that is so myopic, so insulting and, frankly, so stupid . . . like a poop in the pool. I think I'm just going to let [the closing lines] sit there and speak for itself."
That piece suggests a simple thought experiment: "A simple test for Rick Reilly: answer the challenge of Ray Halbritter of the Oneida Nation. Go to his house, look at his grandchildren and say, 'My goodness these are some cute little Redskins.' If it is really a name of honor, you will make the trip and say it to the Halbritters. If you won’t, then you are completely full of it. News flash: he won’t."
Taking issue with the suggestion that using a racist word is all right if some Indians don't object, Kevin Beams of Sports Central notes: "While a majority of Native Americans may not care about the Redskins nickname, a lot of them do. This need not be held up to a majority vote, because it's just a nickname. If 10% of Native Americans are offended, what's the harm in changing it . . ."
That’s similar to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s comment: "if we are offending one person, we need to be listening and making sure that we’re doing the right things to try to address that.”
Travis Waldon of ThinkProgress was unstinting in his condemnation, saying Reilly penned an absurd defense of the name: "The column was bad from the first word, but Reilly saved the worst for last. . . . I get it now. Rick Reilly, one of the most established columnists in the game, just won the Internet Troll Olympics. That, or the ESPN editor who allowed this to publish was too flabbergasted to read to the last, mind-numbingly ignorant line."
MotherJones was also critical of Reilly's argument against changing the team's name, citing the following as among those who have already refused to use it: Washington City Paper, Kansas City Star, DCist, Gregg Easterbrook (ESPN.com), Slate, Mother Jones, The New Republic, Peter King (Sports Illustrated and MMQB.com), Bill Simmons (ESPN and Grantland), and Christine Brennan (USA Today). By the way, the list seems incomplete, since it leaves off people like Washington Post sports writer Mike Wise, Warren Pierce on WJR Radio, and others
Indeed, the Washington Post recently blasted the "Redskins" in an editorial, saying “We hope, too, that Mr. Snyder finally understands that the team’s name – no matter its storied tradition or importance to many fans – is a racial slur of Native Americans so offensive that it should no longer be tolerated. Imagine, as we wrote in 2006 advocating a name change, Mr. Snyder, or anyone else for that matter, sitting in a room with Native Americans and calling them 'redskins.' Not likely. The name is offensive to a great many more than Mr. Goodell’s hypothetical one person."
Roger Wooden of Fanside took Reilly to task on another ground, writing: "You know what seems just as hypocritical as white sportswriters addressing a racial slur that in no way, shape or form pertains to them? White sportswriters speaking on behalf of an entire race of people to claim that the aforementioned racial slur isn’t offensive AT ALL."
Jake O'Donnell of Sports Grid wrote "An Open Letter to Rick Reilly" is which his sarcasm was very pointed: "I know what you’re saying Rick. It doesn’t matter if a practice is generally condemned across the board because most people find it objectionable. If the Chicasaw and the Choctaw tribes aren’t offended by being labeled by the color of their skin, we should allow the practice to continue, in the hopes that some child, somewhere far off in the future, has the right to be identified by the color of his or her skin — and not just the content of his character."
In the end, it appears that Reilly's column may have hurt the "Redskins" more than he possibly helped them. As Sarah Kogod of the Washington Post reported: "While there will certainly be a red carpet rolled out for [Reilly] at Redskins Park the next time he lands in Washington, I’m not sure he did the pro-namers any favors with this one."
Indeed, even Reilly himself conceded that: "The 81-year-old Washington Redskins name is falling."
Meanwhile, Banzhaf notes that there will be additional protests at future “Redskins” games, a group of experts is planning to challenge the use of the team name on the air as a violation of federal broadcast law, and the DC City Council is preparing a resolution condemning it as racist and derogatory.
Indeed, as Reuters recently reported: “Hoping to find another pressure point, George Washington University public interest law professor John Banzhaf is exploring whether references to the "Redskins" can be kept off broadcast stations as a racial slur. A group of broadcasting experts, including a former Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, have banded together to make a case for a legal challenge to a station's license because of its alleged racism in using the term, he said.”
JOHN F. BANZHAF III, B.S.E.E., J.D., Sc.D.
Professor of Public Interest Law
George Washington University Law School,
FAMRI Dr. William Cahan Distinguished Professor,
Fellow, World Technology Network,
Founder, Action on Smoking and Health (ASH)
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