Where's the line between offensive and overly politically correct?

Posted 12/31/20

Months ago, the club formerly known as the Washington Redskins made headlines when the organization announced it would be known as the Washington Football Team, scrapping the politically incorrect nickname.

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Where's the line between offensive and overly politically correct?

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Months ago, the club formerly known as the Washington Redskins made headlines when the organization announced it would be known as the Washington Football Team, scrapping the politically incorrect nickname.

Changing Washington’s team name had been discussed for years, with people on one side claiming the “Redskins” mascot as offensive and racist, and opposers claiming that many Native Americans approve of the nickname. There was truth to both sides, but the club ultimately decided “Redskins” would be a thing of the past.

One of Washington’s most notable players of the past two decades, tight end Chris Cooley, recently shared his insight on the issue with me. During his time playing and broadcasting for the organization, Cooley had the chance to visit more than 100 reservations, giving him a valuable perspective.

“At the time, I didn’t feel like there was as much sensitivity to the actual name, but that was seven years ago,” Cooley said. “I think a lot’s changed in our society and how we view some of what were cultural norms and our sensitivity to those things.

“I think it’s positive for the team moving forward,” he said of abandoning the Redskins moniker. “I think it’s something that everybody’s going to have to adjust to. You don’t want your players and everyone working for your organization to have any negative connotation or stigma surrounding it.”

I tend to agree with Cooley. It is better for the franchise to get rid of the name that is quite literally a slur and marginalizes indigenous people, even if a chunk of the Native population isn’t offended.

The problem is the slippery slope this change inadvertently created. Recently, the Cleveland Indians of MLB announced they will have a different nickname, starting in 2022.

Though getting rid of the blatantly-racist “Chief Wahoo” logo in 2018 was a definite step in the right direction, I’m not sure removing the iconic “Indians” nickname solves anything.

The moniker “Indians” isn’t degrading in any way. Unlike “Redskins,” which objectifies Native people by using a slur to describe a skin color, “Indians” just refers to the overarching population of indigenous people in the United States.

If anything, the name pays tribute to Native Americans across the country. No one is looking at the Indians’ nickname and making fun of tribal people. No one.

And with Indians being removed, I fully expect the outrage mob to continue down this dangerous slope. Its next victims? The Atlanta Braves, Kansas City Chiefs and Chicago Blackhawks.

That would be one-upping the wokeness of stripping Cleveland of its nickname. Braves literally honors the Native American community with its name and using the word “brave.” The moniker “Chiefs” depicts a fierce, strong tribal warrior. And “Blackhawks” pays tribute to a tribal leader, Black Hawk, who was a Native American historical figure in Illinois.

What’s most befuddling about the recent need to remove these historical names is that the main demographic of people fueling these movements is white people.

Various polls and studies have shown that tribe members are overwhelmingly not offended by names like Indians, Braves, Chiefs or Blackhawks. Some studies have even shown a high percentage indifferent to the “Redskins” moniker, even if that change was widely seen as necessary.

My problem is that people unaffected by the stigma are the most triggered. It’s one thing to take issue with racist logos like Chief Wahoo or derogatory nicknames like “Redskins.” But getting bent out of shape by generic names like Indians, Chiefs or Braves as someone not affected is perplexing.

Personally, I’m not a member of any tribe, but much of the heritage on my father’s side of the family is Cherokee. I don’t find names like Indians, Braves or Chiefs disrespectful to any tribal ancestors of mine, and neither do my relatives. I actually think it’s a neat way to honor them, as long as offensive imagery (such as Chief Wahoo and other past logos) isn’t used.

If the mob finds a way to cancel these generic tribal-based names, almost any team name is in danger of being canceled for various reasons.

What about the Minnesota Vikings? Might people with Scandinavian descent find the brash portrayal of their ancestors offensive? Or what about the Oakland Athletics? Does being called the “Athletics” make non-athletic people feel bad? Aren’t all bodies beautiful?

While the latter of those examples is somewhat hyperbolic, it’s more than likely that other team names will find new ways to become taboo in our 21st century world. It’s very possible that sporting events are between “the red team and the blue team” one day because of society’s need to find any and everything offensive.

Though I find changing the Indians — or Braves, Chiefs and Blackhawks — moniker ridiculous, I’m all for improving the portrayal of Native American communities with these teams.

Whether that’s getting rid of offensive logos, like Chief Wahoo, or teams honoring Native American communities before every game, I think the franchises should do everything in their power to ensure that the portrayal is positive. Items that are sacred to Native Americans (i.e. headdresses) should be banned to patrons, as the Blackhawks did a couple years back.

And like I said, it was long overdue for Washington to remove the harmful “Redskins” nickname. That moniker was dehumanizing and needed to go.

But ridding professional sports of any generic tribal nickname is excessive and will only perpetuate a dangerous trend of oversensitivity.

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