As Jews and Giants fans, New Jerseyans don’t have much of a say in what Washington chooses to call its National Football League team. But as a people often on the receiving end of ethnic slurs, the state’s Jews can understand why many people want the team to lose the “Redskins” name for good.
David Plotz explains in the webzine Slate that there are worse slurs than “Redskins.” And one can even argue that the name is paying tribute to, not denigrating, Native Americans. But Plotz also asks you to imagine any other name that might be derived from the color of a person’s skin, and in what universe such a name would not seem degrading or racist. As a result, writes Plotz, Slate will henceforth refer only to the “Washington NFL team,” not the “Redskins.”
The team’s owner, Dan Snyder, has resisted all calls to change the team’s name — ironic, perhaps, coming from someone who once accused a newspaper of anti-Semitism for running a photograph of him and adding devil’s horns. Team officials have said, unconvincingly, that they will incur massive financial losses if they change the name.
The debate may seem trivial in the scheme of things, but it also points to major changes in how we think about language and minorities. This isn’t “political correctness run amok,” writes Plotz: “It reflects an admirable willingness to acknowledge others who once were barely visible to the dominant culture, and to recognize that something that may seem innocent to you may be painful to others.” Jews have benefitted from this shift, and feel secure in a country where disparaging nicknames have been mostly purged from acceptable discourse.
So come on, Dan: Change the name. If you can’t give the nation’s capital a winning football team, you can at least give its fans a name they can be proud of.