If Washington Redskins want their name to honor tradition, they simply need to put it in the past

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In a sporting environment that has seen social integration and tolerance in its locker rooms for the past three generations, it seems like a detail of unfinished business from that past to finally upgrade the NFL’s Washington Redskins nickname to something that isn’t a relic of America’s history of racial discrimination, but it is still imperative it must be done.

The move last NFL season pressuring the league’s Washington D.C. franchise to change their nickname from “Redskins” hasn’t been the first time the team’s nickname had come under protest – and certainly won’t be the last unless they enter the 2014 season without it.

Team Owner Dan Snyder, with whom ultimately the decision lays, has remained firm and adamant that fans of the team will be rooting for the “Redskins” for the foreseeable future.

In a letter written to season-ticket holders in October, he cited a handful of reasons for keeping the name. Among them included…

–          The team’s first coach and four players on the franchise’s inaugural season were of Native American descent.

–          In 1971, the team consulted Native Americans when designing the team’s still-current logo.

–          A poll conducted by the Annenburg Public Policy Center of 1,000 self-identified Native Americans showed that roughly 90 percent of them weren’t offended by the nickname.

–          Various media reports concurring with the poll showing numerous tribal representatives near and distant from the team’s Landover, Md. headquarters.

Additionally, the letter cited the team’s 80-plus year tradition of having the name, as Snyder and fans have built as a sub-identity of the team’s fanbase.

The history of the nickname’s origin is relatively innocuous. In 1932, the NFL awarded its Boston franchise to George Preston Marshall. As was a typical practice in the NFL at the time, Marshall got the nickname for their team by copying the baseball team with whom they shared their stadium. In this case, it was the Boston Braves. The following season, the Boston (football) Braves moved their home games to Fenway Park, still home today to the Boston Red Sox. To avoid confusion, the football team changed their name from the Braves to Redskins, which not only kept the connection to a Native American theme, but also kept the “Red” in common.

In 1938, due to low attendance and Marshall’s other business interests in the nation’s capital, Marshall moved the franchise to Washington D.C., keeping the nickname.

One twist in this was found with the Boston National League franchise, which changed its name from “Braves” to “Bees” from 1935-40. If Marshall had been awarded the franchise three years later, or if he had kept the football team at Braves Field for an additional three years, it’s possible he would’ve changed the nickname to something similar to winged insects with stingers.

But alas…

Controversy surrounding the nickname began in the late 1940s, as the National Congress of American Indians began a campaign to eliminate all offensive team nicknames, including “Redskins” and “Braves,” which were determined to be demeaning to Native American heritage. Following the American Indian Movement’s efforts to raise awareness of Native American civil rights in the late 1960s and early 1970s, a handful of high school and collegiate nicknames have been changed. No professional team has yet to be changed, with both afore-mentioned nicknames being top priority.

In 1992, the biggest challenge to the Redskins’ nickname was made as a legal challenge was made to overturn the NFL’s and the team’s trademark involving the “Redskin” name. Citing trademark law declaring no trademark could be “disparaging, scandalous contemptuous, or disreputable,” the U.S. Patent and trademark Office cancelled the trademark of the nickname in 1999. However, an appeal to the U.S. District Court in Washington D.C. overturned the cancellation on the grounds there was lack of sufficient proof the nickname had actually disparaged Native Americans.

Controversy over the nickname remained quiet until March, 2013, when legislation was entered into the U.S. House of Representatives amending patent laws so that disparaging nicknames would be prevented from getting or keeping trademarks.  The bill remains stalled and is unlikely to be passed into law.

The word “redskin” is a slur, according to a consensus of dictionaries. Originating during the colonization of North America by European settlers, the word was used to generalize and stereotype all Native Americans, disregarding any unique identity of tribal or national affiliation. It was used especially during times of westward expansion, when Native Americans were not only seen as inferior to white citizens, but a threat to the point the genocide which ensued was embarked upon.

It is also ironically notable that in Snyder’s letter, the term “redskin” is only used in reference to the franchise. He claims that “Native Americans,” “Indians,” and names various tribes who aren’t offended by the term, but doesn’t use the term in reference to the peoples concerned at all. This begs the obvious point that if the word doesn’t offend, it would be safe to use in real context.

While proponents of the nickname claim the term doesn’t result in actual offensiveness in today’s society, even possibly honors Native Americans, there is no real argument that justifies keeping it. In fact, if they are to honor it, the best way to do so is to put it in the past as soon as possible, and not to make the slur ineffective and inert.

When first used by the NFL franchise, American society was a lot different. Racial segregation was accepted between blacks and whites, and the slurs used against African-Americans were also just as acceptable as “redskin” was. Changing the nickname will not only reflect the progress American Society has made concerning civil rights, but also putting the nickname will add to the history that racism did exist, but efforts were made to end it.

Second, the nickname also hides a mixed past of the franchise itself concerning the franchise itself. While known for actually breaking a major racial barrier by having the first African-American starting QB in 1988, the Redskins franchise was also last NFL team to sign and play African-Americans under Marshall’s tenure as owner. By 1955, every other NFL franchise had an integrated roster except for Washington. A well-known racist himself, Marshall only agreed to integrate after direct pressure from then-Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall, who declared if the Redskins would be allowed to play in then-new RFK Stadium, they would have to end racial discriminatory hiring practices since the stadium was on federally-controlled land.

In 1962, the drafted Heisman Trophy winner Ernie Davis, but when it was learned that Davis had leukemia, Marshall traded for African-American Bobby Mitchell, then a star receiver with the then-perennial contending Cleveland Browns, who remained with the Redskins for the remainder of his career.

Today, the franchise is proportionally integrated with the rest of the NFL, but by merely playing for the Redskins, they honor the tradition of the owner – Marshall – that resisted that very integration that led to them earning NFL salaries in the first place.

In light of the team’s distancing itself from its own, the NFL’s, sports’ in general, and American Society’s overall progress in racial equality, it is time to leave this nickname behind. The sooner the better, as this controversy won’t go away.

Contributor: John Stebbins

John Stebbins is a Cleveland-area native who received a bachelor’s degree in journalism in 1998 from Bowling Green State University. After a couple years reporting in the print industry, he took some time off before occasionally contributing to various websites.

See his full bio!

Thank you for reading Rationality Unleashed! You can “like” us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter @rationalityunle. For any questions, concerns, or comments beyond what can be placed in the comments section of the blog, email us at admin@rationalityunleashed.net.

Wells Report on Miami Bullying Case Reveals Problem, Does Little to Actually Solve it

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Despite overtones that it has good intentions, the NFL isn’t ready to become a professional organization, if you read the recently-released “Wells Report” concerning the case of workplace bullying of former Miami Dolphin offensive lineman Jonathan Martin.

For the non-sports fan, the controversy leading to this report began when Martin walked out of the team’s training facility Oct. 28 and sought psychiatric help for depression and suicidal tendencies, later to be discovered as resulting from over a season’s worth of social ostracism and intentional psychological torment from three of his fellow linemen.

The report, in graphic and vulgar detail, shows that the behavior demonstrated by the three players – Richie Incognito (designated as the leader), John Jerry and Mike Pouncey – went far and beyond what any person should say or treat a fellow human being – friend or enemy. If you want to learn how to bully a person mentally, the examples detailed in the report double as a how-to textbook.

The report correctly condemns Incognito in his leadership role as well as Pouncey and Jerry in their compliant roles.

From the report: We find that the harassment of Martin bears many hallmarks of a classic case of bullying, where persons who are in a position of power harass the less powerful. It may seem odd to some that Martin, a professional football player with imposing physical stature, could be described as a victim of bullying or harassment, but even big, strong athletes are not immune from vulnerability to abusive behavior.

The relevant literature on bullying indicates that bullies typically choose victims who are different from them, who have low self-esteem or who lack the skills to deal with conflict.

A typical victim is a person who is unlikely to push back when victimized. Studies show that bullying adversely affects the target’s physical and mental health —it has been shown to lead to depression, stress, anxiety, mood swings and suicide

So far, so good. When an employee of a company intentionally targets and subsequently torments a co-worker to such a point, it is seemingly common sense that player be scrutinized and his actions condemned in such a fashion.

Initially, Incognito was suspended by the team. Originally declared to be an “indefinite” suspension, the team quietly lifted Incognito’s ban Feb. 5 of this year – during the week after the Super Bowl when all the headlines were focused on the championship win by the Seattle Seahawks.

While the condemnation of Incognito, Pouncey and Jerry are easily commendable, concerns begin with the attitude the Wells Report made towards of Offensive Line Coach Jim Turner, who set the proper environment for Incognito, Pouncey and Jerry to isolate Martin. Under his tenure, Turner established was referred to as a “Judas Code,” which strictly discouraged any player on the offensive line from betraying his fellow linemen

The most condemning piece of Turner from the report came as it reviewed numerous texts from Turner to Martin – as he was seeking psychiatric help to deal with the mental damages inflicted by Incognito – to defend Incognito. Think about that. Obviously, from the nature of Turner’s texts, ordering the hospitalized Martin to “FIX THIS NOW” (yes, he used all caps), Turner didn’t think it through that the victim of psychological torment shouldn’t be the one held responsible when the tormentor gets in trouble for his tormenting.

It also revealed that Martin wasn’t the only target of unprofessional behavior. (similar behavior towards a mentioned “Player A” – later revealed to be now-Carolina Panther Andrew McDonald – was also included but stopped short of concluding that behavior led to either a decline in mental state or his departure from the team a week before Martin departed) With the inclusion of behaviors towards off-field personnel, the report demonstrated that enforcement of the official team policy concerning personal respect was all but flat-out ignored.

The report travels up the Dolphins’ organizational chain of command, chronicling that they were at least passively aware of the situation, and at most intentionally ignorant. This was highlighted by now-former General Manager Jeff Ireland’s statement that Martin “should’ve just punched Incognito in the face.”

On the surface, this seems optimistic. We wish for victims to defend themselves. But ultimately, this stance was naïve, counterproductive and sincerely unprofessional.

Or maybe not, according to the report.

“We also understand that context matters. We accept that the communications of young, brash, highly competitive football players often are vulgar and aggressive, and that these players never expected their private communications with each other to be made public. We did not approach this assignment expecting to discover behavior that society might anticipate in, say, an accounting firm or a law office. For better or worse, profanity is an accepted fact of life in competitive sports, and professional athletes commonly indulge in conduct inappropriate in other social settings,” the reports says.

“For Better or Worse?” Let’s go with “worse.”  Acknowledging the job description of a NFL player is a physical one, the social aspects should have little – if any – differential from the accounting or legal firms the report cites as being separate from.

One of the social ills plaguing sports has been the apologetic culture towards athlete behavior on and off the field. Up until 2010, concussions were long regarded not as a tragic misgiving of the game, but lauded as a result of “hard-hitting football,” and a sign of toughness by the deliverer and softness of the concussed.

Off the field, cultural mores have been different for athletes. A perfect case would be Incognito himself. After a college career marred by on and off-field incidents resulting in arrests and repeated counseling, he was drafted by the St. Louis Rams, where more controversy followed, as he was named “dirtiest Player in the NFL” in a 2009 player poll.

After another round of counseling following the 2009 season, Incognito temporarily cleaned up his act until the arrival of Martin. Coincidentally, the initial contract Incognito signed with the Dolphins in 2010 included a “character clause,” a one-strike policy that would terminate the deal should Incognito face any off-field troubles.

Despite the clause in his contract being still effective when he signed a subsequent three-year deal, incidents began occurring off the field, but team investigations were left “unresolved.” In short, one could easily accuse the team of covering up Incognito’s bad behavior instead of invoking the contractual obligation to release him, therefore enabling him to continue regressing into the same anti-social behavior on and off the field that led to the clause in the first place.

Yet, the report failed to hold the team directly responsible. It did not cite Turner, who fostered the abusive environment for any responsibility for the decline of Martin’s mental health. Despite saying the official team rules concerning behavioral decorum weren’t “fully appreciated,” they concluded the organization from Head Coach Joe Philbin to Owner Stephen Ross, was “unaware of any wrongdoing.” However, it was also documented that in 2012, as Incognito’s questionable behavior was re-emerging, Ireland and Assistant General Manager Brian Gaine directly ordered Incognito to “make Martin tougher.” Ireland was dismissed following the season, and while there is no doubt the Martin-Incognito case played a factor, his dismissal was ultimately attributed to the Dolphin’s only having one winning season under his tenure.

Sadly, as the story emerged, public support emerged for Incognito more than Martin, with defenders of Incognito’s actions naively claiming that the locker room deserved special rules. And with the report that acquitted Dolphins’ upper management as well as excusing the existence of the behavior in the first place as merely the “accepted way of life” within the sport in general, it seems there is no real call for a change that plagues athletic culture within society.

Despite what former NBA star Charles Barkley said in his famous ad, athletes are role models. When aspiring athletes see success on the field, they too-easily assume off-field lifestyle, attitudes and behaviors are also examples to follow, especially when they are passively encouraged by the lack of rule enforcement in the name of on-field glory for the team and fans.

Defenders of Incognito and players who use unnecessary, injurious violence on the field make a case that the players and the team belong to are performing a higher public service to the fans that support them. Comparisons are drawn between athletes and soldiers and/or public safety forces. Yet, in recent years, even the military has adopted strict anti-hazing policies. The Wells Report also concludes by suggesting a new set of guidelines for workplace harassment, but by poisoning it by citing the actual unprofessional behavior is a tolerable part of the work environment, any new guidelines and rules will be empty overtures that will not prevent future issues like last season in Miami.

There is absolutely no logical way profane language, personal insults within the workplace, and selective rule enforcement can be matched with the word “professional,” even if it has been a tradition or not. In fact, the reported exoneration of this culture that encouraged Incognito on every level is also an insult to the athletes who can and do maintain a truly professional standard on and off the field. While the job description may not be identical to that of a professional office environment, the standards of being a mature citizen and responsible co-worker should never be sacrificed.

Contributor: John Stebbins

John Stebbins is a Cleveland-area native who received a bachelor’s degree in journalism in 1998 from Bowling Green State University. After a couple years reporting in the print industry, he took some time off before occasionally contributing to various websites.

See his full bio!

Thank you for reading Rationality Unleashed! You can “like” us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter @rationalityunle. For any questions, concerns, or comments beyond what can be placed in the comments section of the blog, email us at admin@rationalityunleashed.net.