Commentary: Pain and scars are behind Redskins name

The Miami HeraldFebruary 16, 2011 

PITTS LEONARD 1

Miami Herald columnist Leonard Pitts Jr.

CHUCK KENNEDY — KRT

‘‘In the old days we sent Christianity to the savage redskin." -- The Herald-Star (Steubenville, Ohio) Nov. 26, 1921

"...and the savage redskin was thirsting for their blood..." -- United States Magazine, June, 1855

"On rushed the savages, flushed with their recent victory and mad for more blood and scalps. ‘Let every shot kill a redskin!’ was the order..." -- The New York Times, Nov. 28, 1897

"Deerslayer read his thoughts; and he found a melancholy satisfaction in relieving the apprehensions of the helpless savage. ’No, no, redskin,’ he said. ‘You’ve nothing more to fear from me."’ -- The Deerslayer by James Fenimore Cooper, 1841

"Want to be a Redskins Cheerleader? Here’s your chance." -- www.redskins.com, Feb. 10, 2011

Dan Snyder is offended.

The source of his ire is the Washington City Paper, published weekly in the nation’s capital. Last November, the paper ran a less than flattering piece on Snyder, owner of the town’s godawful football team. It depicted him as a bungling, meddling cheapskate and laid blame for the godawfulness right at his feet.

In response, Snyder recently filed a $2 million lawsuit, charging that this piece and others dating to 2009 libel and defame him. While his complaints are many, one thing that really seems to get Snyder’s goat is the art accompanying the last piece: a photo of him onto which a Tony Stark moustache and devil horns have been scribbled.

The paper’s publisher says the image was meant to suggest the defacement a frustrated fan might do. Snyder, who is Jewish, solicited no less august a personage than Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the Simon Wiesenthal Center to say the image harkens back to ancient anti-Semitic slurs depicting Jews as the devil.

It seems a stretch. The image, a Google search away for those who are interested, appears to have been meant in just the spirit the publisher describes. To whatever debatable degree it conjures up anything more, the offense seems quite inadvertent.

But there is an obvious irony here. The team Snyder owns is, after all, called the Redskins. It is called that despite long efforts by American Indian leaders to get it changed. They invoke the freighted history of that word, the blood that soaks it, the tears that drench it, the genocide it justified, and they say, this is no fit name for a football team.

Snyder always responds as he did in a recent radio interview with Washington Post columnist Mike Wise: "The name is not meant to be offensive whatsoever." Which is, as it happens, the same argument the City Paper has made; the image had no anti-Semitic intent. But Snyder, hypocrisy blind and irony deaf, said it was "silly’’ to compare that photo with the racial slur that is his team’s name.

Actually, it is anything but.

The litmus test for those who decry oppression or insult against their people is whether they are willing to hold themselves to the same standard when other people are at stake. You cannot decry bigotry against your fellow Cubans and accept it against the Haitians or demand equality for your fellow Christians and deny it to the Muslims.

But for some reason, we as people often find it easy to ignore our own cries and complaints when they issue from the mouths of others. For some reason, those cries and complaints become tinny to our ears. But principle is principle is principle. And the test of a moral man is the willingness to vindicate principle even for those who do not look like him, even when self-interest must bear the cost.

This is the test Snyder fails. He is disinclined to tamper with a valuable trademark. Why would we even ask him to take that risk? Why would we expect him to show that sort of moral courage?

Well...because it’s right.

But apparently, that’s not nearly reason enough.

ABOUT THE WRITER

Leonard Pitts Jr., winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, is a columnist for the Miami Herald, 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, Fla. 33132. Readers may write to him via e-mail at lpitts@miamiherald.com. He chats with readers every Wednesday from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. EDT at Ask Leonard.

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