‘Linsanity’ and the Redskins: Race in Sports

Race has increasingly become part of the story in the buzz around the first Asian American NBA starter, Jeremy Lin of the New York Knicks. Last week, a headline writer at ESPN was fired for publishing the headline “Chink in the armor” following a Knicks’ loss. The discussions and outrage surrounding the offensiveness of the phrase have led some in the D.C. area to revive an old question: is the name of Washington’s football team, the Redskins, racist?

Local newscaster Jim Vance offered his commentary during an NBC4 telecast, calling for greater attention and dialogue to the appropriateness of the team name. He states, “I don’t know if it should or not be changed, but I’d sure rather not be cussed out for raising the question.”

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But despite such calls, there’s little impetus to change Washington’s franchise name. In 2009, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear a case brought by Native American activists who wanted the team name changed. And the Redskins team is one of the most profitable in the country, so there’s a lot of brand value attached to the team name.

Redskins and Race

Stephen Train / Flickr

Local black sports fans are more likely to support the Redskins than white fans, according to a new Washington Post poll. One explanation: black respondents said they were more interested in the NFL than white respondents. Still, the loyalty contrasts to the Redskins’ tumultuous history with race; the team was the last in the league to integrate.

While the Redskins has overcome its past of racial segregation, some argue the franchise is still racist and far from deserving support. At issue: the team’s name, which has been protested as a slur for decades. A group of Native American activists filed a lawsuit in 1992 to force the renaming of the team. The case almost made its way to the highest court in the land, but in 2009, the Supreme Court declined to hear the case. Meanwhile, some college teams have voluntarily changed their Native American mascots.

The Redskins team remains one of the most profitable in the league, so the name retains a lot of brand value. And the franchise has to appeal to the black community in order to do well financially; more than 1.4 million African Americans live in the D.C.-area, making up 26 percent of the region’s population. Offending Native Americans, who only make up 0.4 percent of the metro area’s population, will never be as big of a concern for the franchise; they can’t hurt the team’s pocket book enough.

Bin Laden and Geronimo: What Makes an American Enemy?

Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Apache leader Geronimo

Osama bin Laden’s U.S. militarily code name was Geronimo, who was a 19th-century Apache leader. The Washington Post reports:

In a triumphant moment for the United States, the moniker has left a sour taste among many Native Americans.

“I was celebrating that we had gotten this guy and feeling so much a part of America,” Tom Holm, a former Marine, a member of the Creek/Cherokee Nations and a retired professor of American Indian studies at the University of Arizona, said by phone Tuesday. “And then this ‘Geronimo EKIA’ thing comes up. I just said, ‘Why pick on us?’ Robert E. Lee killed more Americans than Geronimo ever did, and Hitler would seem to be evil personified, but the code name for bin Laden is Geronimo?”

Geronimo fought neighboring Mexicans and spent 10 years eluding U.S. troops as he revolted against white settlement in Apache territory. He is considered a hero by many Native Americans. So is it appropriate to equate this Native American figure with America’s number one enemy? Holm’s comments are even more poignant given the over-representation of Native Americans in the military; in 2007, they made up .73 percent of the U.S. population but 2.86 percent of the new recruits.

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Black Football Players and White Women: Albert Haynesworth’s Defense

Joe Robbins / Getty Images

Albert Haynesworth

Washington Redskins player Albert Haynesworth has been indicted on one charge of sexual abuse after a Feb. 13 incident at the W Hotel, in which he allegedly fondled a cocktail waitress’ breast. According to the indictment, Haynesworth told a security guard, “I didn’t touch her” and that the waitress was “a little black girl” and he “doesn’t even like black girls.” Later, according to the indictment, Hanyesworth told detectives “I know what this is about, she is just upset I have a white girlfriend. I couldn’t tell you the last time I dated a black girl. She was trying to get with me.”

Oh my. Despite obvious problems with such a “victim-blaming” defense, Haynesworth’s remarks touch upon a sensitive topic: interracial dating and black athletes dating white women.

This really came to the fore nationally at the height of the Kardashians’ fame, when two of famous sisters were dating black athletes. The women, who although aren’t technically white, were still viewed by many as fitting the stereotype of black athletes preferring white women to black women, spurring plenty of nasty comments.

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Redskins Coach vs. Redskins Quarterback


Tony Dungy and Donovan McNabb

I don’t know if “issues of race are often discussed head-on” in D.C. (unless the writer means “among people of the same color”) but I was glad that one of you sent me this story about our local NFL team: “Is Coach Shanahan Racist or Just Dumb?

Here in D.C., in Obama’s so-called post-racial America, issues of race are often discussed head-on, and talk of the strained relationship between McNabb, who is black, and Shanahan, who is white, have dominated conversations in barber shops, offices and sports bars across the city – and across the country – for the past 14 days.

“Indications are now that the Shanahans, father and son, don’t much like the way McNabb prepares for games,” Michael Wilbon, a prominent sports columnist, wrote in The Washington Post. “Mike’s assertion makes it sound like McNabb is some dummy, an ominous characterization he’d better be careful about, lest he run into some cultural trouble in greater Washington, D.C.”…

This is not Denver, Shanahan’s last coaching job. This is the nation’s capitol, nicknamed “Chocolate City,” a place where scores of highly-educated African-Americans cheer for the Redskins – and the team’s black quarterback – every Sunday…

And so Shanahan’s humiliating insinuation that McNabb cannot intellectually absorb the complexities of the Redskins offense after 11 successful years as an NFL quarterback was taken as a collective insult to many black Americans in D.C. who viewed McNabb’s demotion – and the way it was handled – as discriminatory.