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The NBA, the NFL, Sterling, and the Redskins

Today, NPR Commentator Frank Deford, also a Senior Contributing Writer at Sports Illustrated, made the following observation about longer reaching implications of the Donald Sterling affair:

On thing I think may have a carry over factor here, is that it puts more pressure on another commissioner, Roger Goodell of the NFL, to try and force Daniel Snyder, of the Washington Redskins, to drop that name. That remains now the most defamatory issue in sports — the Redskins. If Donald Sterling insulted a minority and is essentially thrown out of the game, then there may be some more sensitivity training that needed in the NFL with regard to the Redskins.

It seems to me that Deford’s point is a good one. If one is being intellectually consistent, then it’s hard to create an argument for maintaining the racially insensitive Redskins name after the defrocking of Sterling over racial insensitivity.*

* – I realize that some will argue that Sterling’s punishment is *really* about his long and storied history of racial discrimination. But, like Kareem Abdul Jabbar, I don’t buy this argument. If this specific, inflammatory language *had not* come to light, everything would have remained status quo and Sterling would have continued his racist behavior unabated.

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About Matt Bernius
Matthew is a PhD student in Cultural Anthropology at Cornell University, researching the intersection of technology and culture. Prior to Cornell, he earned a Masters in the Social Sciences from the University of Chicago and was a visiting professor at the Rochester Institute of Technology. Matt started his career at Eastman Kodak, spending eight years in a variety of web development, community and content strategy roles. In his spare time (off OTB) Matt slogs (slow-blogs) on the future of reading/media, studies martial arts and self defense, and volunteers, along with his wife, at the Rochester Animal Shelter. Follow him on twitter @mattbernius.

Comments

  1. The Monster says:

    If “Redskins” is racially insensitive, then when will we force the state of Oklahoma (slogan: “Native America”) to change its name (which means “Red People” in Choctaw)?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 10

  2. Mu says:

    So, we have to be racially sensitive. How about the Fedtown Bloodsuckers?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 3

  3. Dave Schuler says:

    IMO this

    everything would have remained status quo and Sterling would have continued his racist behavior unabated

    is the real story and it’s largely being missed.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  4. gVOR08 says:

    I liked somebody’s suggestion that we quit pretending the teams are linked to the cities they’d leave in a heartbeat for a better deal. Call them the DC Snyders and the L.A. Sterlings. Then Cleveland would have to give their football name to my hometown and call themselves the Haslams

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  5. gVOR08 says:

    @Mu: How about the Washington Billy Yanks. A lot of southern conservatives would change their minds about offensive language so fast their heads would explode.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  6. James Pearce says:

    “I realize that some will argue that Sterling’s punishment is *really* about his long and storied history of racial discrimination. But, like Kareem Abdul Jabbar, I don’t buy this argument.”

    Seriously…..

    I’ve been regaled about Sterling’s “long and storied history of racial discrimination” by people who, until last week, couldn’t even provide his name.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  7. Joe says:

    If more Native Americans played pro football, these issues would be a lot more similar.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  8. JR says:

    The NFL and commissioner are not going to force Snyder to change the name. This is a privately owned franchise and Goodell recently trumpeted a poll that said 9/10 Native Americans supported not changing the name.

    I also don’t seen any similarity between Sterling and Snyder. It’s Snyder’s team and he can do whatever he wants. The NFL owners are also a much closer fraternity than any other sports league. I don’t think a single owner has told Snyder to change the name. If enough people stop buying tickets and refuse to watch the games, then he will likely change the name. The government has no right to force him to change the name.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  9. JWH says:

    @Mu: Vampires will take offense at being compared to Congressmen.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  10. Matt Bernius says:

    @James Pearce:

    I’ve been regaled about Sterling’s “long and storied history of racial discrimination” by people who, until last week, couldn’t even provide his name.

    Sorry James, that one doesn’t fly. If anything it makes it worse.

    It doesn’t matter if the person on the street knew about his history. It does matter that he repeatedly was found to be involved in things like housing and employment discrimination, and no one who knew about it (which appears to be a lot of league officials, owners, players, etc) cared about it.

    The reason it makes it worse is that it means that the top brass of the NBA only took action to preserve the league’s image, not because of the actual principle of what was done.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  11. Tyrell says:

    Well, I have several unusual feelings about the Redskins. I have some Redkins merchandise and it wasn’t cheap. If they change the name, someone better be paying out to us for new merchandise, or I will just keep wearing what I have.
    One alternative could be the Warriors. It still would be a fitting acknowledgement and recognition of Native accomplishments, courage, physical skills, and character. It would also fit right into the Redskins fight song, the best in all sports. Maybe they should ask past and present Redskin players their views. There are a lot of Redskins in the Hall of Fame, probably more than any team.
    I remember a few years ago the local school board decided to change the local high school symbol and name. For one thing they did not even ask the former students, teachers, athletes and parents for their opinion and vote. And to add insult to injury, it ended up costing the tax payers over thirty thousand dollars to change signs, scoreboards, and several other insignia. The handful of people who pushed for this change should have been the people paying for it.
    There are many teams that could be deemed by some group as offensive: Yankees, Giants, Dodgers, Padres, Saints, Vikings, Pirates, Rebels, 49ers. Even some of the animal rights people are stirring up a mess with complaining that some of these team names often degrade and trivialize animals.
    Maybe they should just name these teams after rocks and minerals.
    It’s just all ridiculous and depressing. People have gotten so far away from the ideals of sportsmanship that these teams and leagues were founded on. Now everything is tv
    That needs to change too.
    As far as the Redskins go, the change they really need to make is the owner. Bring in someone who will bring them the Super Bowl. They haven’t done anything since Coach Gibbs was in there..
    “Hail to the Redskins, fight for old D.C !!”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 5

  12. Tillman says:

    @Matt Bernius:

    The reason it makes it worse is that it means that the top brass of the NBA only took action to preserve the league’s image, not because of the actual principle of what was done.

    Eh, I see that as a mixed blessing. I expect conglomerates to be amoral in the pursuit of profit; that is their design. But they had to respond to an outcry, which means there was a large enough population of people who cared about the racism (or at least such blatant racism if not the endemic kind Sterling got away with before) to act in some way.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  13. PD Shaw says:

    @Matt Bernius: ” It does matter that he repeatedly was found to be involved in things like housing and employment discrimination, and no one who knew about it (which appears to be a lot of league officials, owners, players, etc) cared about it.”

    Where are these findings? I am aware of two matters that Kareem mentions:

    One he was sued for discrimination by the Justice Department, which he settled without admission of liability. Two, he was sued by Elgin Baylor for employment discrimination on the basis of age and race, and Elgin Balor dropped the race discrimination claim and then lost a jury trial on the age discrimination. One is an accusation, not a finding, the other is a finding of non-discrimination.

    After these lawsuits were filed, he received a lifetime achievement award from the NAACP. Kareem vouchers for his experience with him.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  14. Grewgills says:

    @Matt Bernius:

    The reason it makes it worse is that it means that the top brass of the NBA only took action to preserve the league’s image, not because of the actual principle of what was done.

    Does anyone really doubt that the NBA made this decision based on image and attendant revenues? The idea that they would do it because of their principles is sadly laughable.
    Understanding that makes the NFL’s decision regarding the Redskins entirely consistent with the NBA’s decision regarding Sterling. They are both looking at the bottom line, not making a principled stand.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  15. Grewgills says:

    @Tyrell:

    Well, I have several unusual feelings about the Redskins. I have some Redkins merchandise and it wasn’t cheap. If they change the name, someone better be paying out to us for new merchandise, or I will just keep wearing what I have.

    If they change the name your merchandise will become more valuable, not less.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  16. Tillman says:

    @Grewgills: To put it another way: Corporations are not people. I don’t expect corporations to have morals.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  17. Dave Schuler says:

    @Tillman:

    What you’re describing is a large, publicly-held corporation. The NBA is a closely held corporation with a small number of owners. It’s established law that those are generally treated as the alter egos of their owners. As such they have morals, beliefs, etc.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  18. Tillman says:

    @Dave Schuler: Damn it, stop introducing complexity to my worldview!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  19. James Pearce says:

    @Matt Bernius:

    It does matter that he repeatedly was found to be involved in things like housing and employment discrimination,

    Actually, I’m not so sure that matters at all. What matters is Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and the glare of tabloid media. What matters is there’s a new commissioner in town, eager to make his mark. What matters is that the Clippers are a much more competitive (and more valuable) franchise in 2014 than it was in 2007. The media, the Man, and the money. It’s always one or the other and for Sterling, it’s all three.

    I don’t mean to sound too cynical about the whole thing, but TMZ? Pro sports? Los Angeles?

    Makes me think this is an apt description: “the top brass of the NBA only took action to preserve the league’s image.”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  20. MarkedMan says:

    @Tyrell: Tyrell, are you a Southerner, by chance? Because we here in the Northeast certainly don’t consider “Yankee” to be an insult. It’s simply a designation of where you are from. Southerners may think differently but, well, who cares?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  21. Grewgills says:

    @Tyrell:

    There are many teams that could be deemed by some group as offensive: Yankees, Giants, Dodgers, Padres, Saints, Vikings, Pirates, Rebels, 49ers.

    Which of those names would anyone find offensive and why? None of them are insulting epithets.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  22. Neil Hudelson says:

    Tyrell

    Yankees, Giants, Dodgers, Padres, Saints, Vikings, Pirates, Rebels, 49ers

    None of those would be considered offensive, and even if they were, it wouldn’t be on the same level as “redskins.” You realize that that word is on the same caliber of “n*gger,” right?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1