Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Bob Costas', Gyasi Ross' View on the term "Redskins"? Hostile and Abusive

(Editor's Note: I wrote the first portion of this piece yesterday, and embarrassingly, didn't realize that there was much more to write. Thus, the text and the headline have been redacted.)

Gyasi Ross put up a piece on Deadspin the other day, and I've been indirectly told not to write pieces about pieces, but sometimes you just can't help it. He started with a Bob Costas clip, then elaborated.

I’ve always admired the work and professionalism of Bob Costas. That is, I did, until he used prime air time to call the term “Redskins” an insult and a slur. This development disappoints on an inward level. Costas has, for years, been a household name, and deservedly so: His dedication to consistent, top-tier production of his craft has few parallels. That he’s been given the platforms he has is admirable, and his delivery almost always warrants respect. But not this time.

He does a great job touching on the history of sports teams with Native American mascots, both past and present. I find it suspicious at best, however, that he failed to include the University of North Dakota’s recently retired mascot: the Fighting Sioux.

In short, the school’s mascot was in existence for 13 years, and for most of those years -- based largely on pressures from the National Collegiate Athletic Association -- said existence was an ongoing court case because the NCAA felt the logo and imagery were offensive to Native Americans. The logo, by the way is a profile-style likeness of a male Native American face. I use “likeness” loosely there as it resembles a human being about as much as a modern-day pirate would have an eye patch and a wooden leg.

Either way, there were groups that supported, if not led, the idea that the university should cease usage of the mascot. Many more were in support of keeping it. The NCAA -- under the claim that the imagery was hostile and abusive -- then threatened to fiscally punish the institution, but saw their efforts thwarted when they were sued.




The issue was volleyed for a few more years between courtroom proceedings and polling places, and although thousands of North Dakotans signed a petition to keep the mascot and logo, the NCAA again threatened, ultimately ending the disagreement. That is until five months ago, when it was ended again as Spirit Lake Nation tribal members learned that a federal appeals court nixed their efforts to save the nickname, a claim the tribe made under the insistence that the NCAA had been discriminatory in forcing the university to retire the Fighting Sioux moniker.

Perhaps they didn’t want to reveal that they themselves had been hostile and abusive, and a quick rug sweep of the case was, um the least-offensive route.

Costas, though, said what he said -- and more -- about the term “Redskins” in roughly two and-a-half minutes, concluding with: “It’s fair to say that for a long time now -- and certainly in 2013 -- no offense has been intended. But if you take a step back isn’t it clear to see how offense might legitimately be taken?”

The answer is simple: No, Bob. It isn’t. It’s quite clear to see how such a mascot in no way, shape, or form could result in offense taken. What’s more: If you take a step back, it’s even clearer.

What I mean by that is this: You’re identifying a physical attribute of a person, or more specifically, a group of people, by referring to their skin color. It’s no different than me watching your clip and having the thought “white guy Bob Costas” run through my head, or thinking “guy of Hispanic descent Tony Gonzalez” when I watch the greatest tight end in National Football League history continue to statistically dominate the categories of his position. Or when I read the tweets about Yasiel Puig and have two thoughts: 1) Dude’s a badass Cuban ballplayer, and 2) Can baseball season please end already?

If you say someone has red skin, it’s the same as saying they have black skin, or brown skin, or white skin, or tan skin. It means nothing more than how much -- historically -- their people have been exposed to the sun. That’s it. Unless you actually coined the term “redskin” which originally referred to vermillion face paint that members of early tribes used. What’s more: There are dozens of authentic reasons that support the Washington team’s namesake and not one of them are negative. I mean, hell -- if I won the lottery, bought an NFL franchise, and named them the Los Angeles White Guys, are you going to tell me that people are going to be offended by that?

Would white people? Would they be offended that something was named after them? Would non-whites claim discrimination because only whites were singled out in the mascot selection? What about black guys that played on the White Guys? Would they have different rules? Treatments? Pay structures? And what of white-guy trainers that perhaps work on black guys that played on the White Guys? How many levels of alleged offensiveness would we be layered in there?

It’s the same answer: None.

Nobody’s offended by “Redskins” except for people who are either a) so cracked out on political correctness that they’ve clouded their vision on a better humanity, or b) people who are ashamed of their ancestry and feel that invaluable amounts of time and money must be exhausted to make it right in the fakest sense imaginable.

The entire movement is a joke. Hostile and intellectually abusive, even.

Nobody’s offended by the use of the term “Redskin” and anybody that debates that has confused offensiveness for something called disingenuousness.

You have access to an immense audience, Mr. Costas. Don’t further confuse the sports-watching American public on the notion of humanity. Find a legitimate cause to support.

Now, on to the author’s piece.

“The vast majority of Native people do not sit around and wish the Redskins would change their name. Most do not care about this topic.”

These lines come after the instruction to not believe the hype over Native Americans not having reached a consensus on whether or not offense should be taken by the term “Redskins.” But, it’s an issue of social injustice. Huh?

The author then mentions that the logo is realistic and handsome, as I would argue was the North Dakota Fighting Sioux logo. This bit is followed by an attempt to gain compassion by stating that many Native Americans struggle with poverty -- and a precursor that asserts that their poorness is worse than any other group -- single-parent situations, substance abuse, and suicide. Summarized: They’re too troubled to worry about football.

I’m glad this portion was presented because prior to reading it, it had never occurred to me that any group of people in America might struggle with one, many, or all of these issues. I guess this is what’s meant when people refer to the one-percenters; the rest of us must have it easy peasy.

Now the agenda changes, however. It’s not that most Native people “do not care about the topic.” Conversely, it’s that they “don’t really have the bandwidth to push the anti-Redskins agenda.” I’m guessing this is a direct result of poverty, coming from an absentee-father home, issues with substance abuse, and struggles with suicide in the community.

On a personal level, I’m glad I’ve never had to face those demons because I’d have no idea what it’s like trying to make it in a world where only one parent raised me -- the other dead as a result of substance abuse -- and I’m left with an ongoing struggle to pay the bills, and have had friends and colleagues in my industry kill themselves.

Regardless, there’s clarification later in the piece: After further sorrow-filled stories about how it’s so hard for Natives to keep the lights on that they can’t worry about mascots, we’re told about five different schools with Native mascots, and that that’s okay. It’s “Redskins,” specifically that’s a problem because Native people don’t consider themselves “Redskins.”

Note to author: Do Special Olympics participants consider themselves special, or are they all just Dicks and Janes trying to make it through life like the rest of us? Did a special-needs human being coin that term? No. Did people of Hispanic origin come up with the name “Spanish” for the language they speak? Do you hear about groups citing offense because their language doesn’t reflect the precise part of the world from which they hail? You don’t. Did a Native American found the NFL, or the Washington Redskins? Huh-uh. They’re all just things we call stuff.

Every other ethnic group gets the opportunity to self-identify in the way they choose. Native people do not.
Seriously? You think that most white guys roll around identifying themselves as white guys? Guess again. I’m sure there are racist white dudes that fly their bigot flags, but for the most part, self-identification as a Caucasian in America comes, more often than not, in disclaimer form with some element of shame coating it, i.e., “Hey, I’m just some white guy.”

And why is that, do you suppose? Because people have made such a huge deal pointing out all of the civil inequalities that white people -- not our term -- have distributed over the history of this country’s existence. Simultaneously, we European-Americans are supposed to be the ones to reverse all of these injustices, take the initiative on most, and identify all of the smaller -- but related -- venues in which a hint of offense might be associated.

Dunno about you, bro. But I’m busy trying to pay the bills. I’m stressed about next month’s mortgage and hoping I will be able to afford a few groceries, so I’m not going to give any energy to the change-the-Redskins-mascot movement. As a matter of fact, I’m going to support the initiative to keep it around, based on: a) I was told as a kid that the mascot honored Native Americans, I still believe that today, and there is documentation out there to support it; b) it’s a badass logo/nickname; and c) maybe you should worry about cleaning up some substance-abuse, or poverty issues in your community instead of working about a football team’s mascot that’s 3,000 miles away and has zero effect on your life.

I already addressed the issue of another team coming up with something similar when I referred to the Los Angeles White Guys. We should totally do that. Solely for the fact that it would be cool.

At this point the author tries to bring together the impetus of his piece – that “Redskin” and “negro” are apples and apples.

Boy is this a failure.

“Negroes is a term that is not necessarily racist.”?

Are you for real?

It’s like, the only term in American history that was invented to identify a person of another ethnicity that was inferior, and should in fact be treated like property. Further: said property was obtained and shipped here as though they were cargo. And no – I don’t say that to imply that the historical treatment of Native Americans was anything remotely associated with appropriate. I do think that European settlers got to this country, and some of them -- many of whom were in power -- decided that nothing was going to stand in their way of taking over and colonizing the land, regardless of the expense of those already present.

It was shitty, but that’s the way the world operated back then; many nations wanted to take the whole damn thing over. And of course many of the American – as they came to be known -- leaders that followed made poor – and often times worse -- choices regarding the few Native peoples that survived such an assertion of misappropriated deservedness. But does it compare with sending ships to retrieve persons from another continent to bring them back as animals to work the land you’re trying to dominate? I don’t think that it does.

Either way, how does trying to replace the name of a 21st-century football team’s mascot soothe the pains of the cultural past? I posit that it doesn’t. And, yes: I posit that via the keyboard strokes ushered from the tips of my uber-white fingertips.

I’ve already touched on the origin of the word “Redskin.” If you’re going to sit around and tell people that it was directly associated with the bloodied hair/brain-matter mess of a murdered Native, then that’s your false-information-spreading business to attend to and I won’t entertain it beyond that statement.

Moving on: Natives, as the author tells us, sometimes refer to themselves as “reds” or “skins. “ But it’s not okay to honor the existence of a specific group that gave themselves the appearance of having red skin because it wasn’t Natives that came up with the terminology. I can relate to this. It’s like the six times a day my two-year-old daughter throws a mini-tantrum because I went to do something for her -- like squeeze the hand soap into her hands -- that she wanted to do. Solid.

Here’s where N.W.A. gets drawn into the bit, and my take on that is this: If you enjoy gangsta rap, have no problem with quoting its lyrics in your piece, it’s likeness atop your words, but you back the change-the-Redskins gig, you’re a lost soul. N.W.A. made millions of dollars singing about killing people, having unprotected sex with countless partners -- then denouncing the women with whom they fornicated -- selling drugs, and breaking the law.

But the Washington NFL team, by the mere appearance or mention of the mascot word, gets your hackles up. Time for a reality check, bro. They’re both entertainment, and enjoyed precisely for what they are. Nobody listens to Eric Wright, Andre Young, and O’Shea Jackson and goes to bed thinking about how they’ll roll around Compton with a 40 in their lap the next day, blowing through condoms like Kleenex, and killin’ people that cross them. Same’s true for Washington fans and supporters of the team they face each week: Ain’t nobody thinking about the big game on Sunday as it showcases a way to denounce the existence of the Native American. And if you say that you are you’re a liar.

All that and then you wanna quote Rick Reilly?

Shame on you, Chief. I find that hostile and abusive.

Further, I’ve never once thought a Native should support the existence of a name. Similarly, I’ve never thought a Native should be against it. It’s a sports team. It recognizes the existence of a proud and noble people. Look at Bob Costas’ bit? Did he mention that the “Cowboys” of Dallas exist as a symbol of dominance of the Natives in the ol’ West? Don’t think so.

The way this piece closes is nothing shy of a mess. The issue has nothing to do with sensitivity, racism, or whose right it is to tell who else how to act and feel. It has everything to do, however, with the American tendency to get bent out of shape about something that doesn’t freaking matter. The NFL is a multi-billion-dollar industry that has very little to do with the truly real things in our lives and a lot to do with the unimportant things in our lives we use to create happiness.

Let that happiness be. Quit trying find sorrow in things and get out there and do something that matters.