In the film, A Time to Kill, Matthew McConaughey plays a lawyer who, in his closing argument, asks the people of the jury to close their eyes as he describes a vivid scenario of rape and assault. He then asks the jurors to imagine the crime happening to a white girl instead of a black girl. The reason McConaughey’s character does this is because the trial takes place in a racially divided community in the rural south. Sometimes we as humans are inheritors of our ways and need perspective.
I would propose a similar argument: When listening to the well-known case against an NFL mascot considered offensive by Native Americans, close your eyes and imagine it was a face of African heritage on the side of that helmet, representing a team called the Blackskins. Would such a thing happen in America today? American Indians by majority accounts are not involved in politically correct rhetoric and argument within mainstream media. They do not have a day-to-day presence on TV, in newspapers, or via online news sources. It's highly unlikely we'll see masses of American Indians marching on Washington to effect a name and mascot change. It is also unlikely that we'll see American Indians leave their small but sacred reservation grounds to occupy Wall Street with demands for a mascot change.
Are right and wrong measured on terms of engagement? Are changes made only when a certain number of citizens rally, or enough news outlets cover the story?
There is a lack of sensitivity, insight and respect for those who once ruled American land. Society seems to view American Indians as fictional characters from western movies. The name change issue is seen as an issue of little significance, and ignored.
The Washington Redskins are one of the most recognizable and storied franchises in all of American football. According to Forbes, the Redskins rank fifth in value among all sports franchises in the world. The Redskins have established a billion-dollar brand and a strong tradition; along with that comes a dedicated and passionate fan base that purchases all sorts of products bearing the mascot that they identify with. The Redskins name and mascot are profitable and accepted by the masses, a fact confirmed by the franchise's value.
Condemning those involved with the Redskins organization today for the franchise's checkered racial past is wrong; they simply don’t deserve it. If you’re searching for racially unjust behavior within any historic American organization, you’re likely to find instances. The current President of the United States is not to blame for humans being enslaved during the terms of the first fifteen Presidents. But what if slavery hadn't ended, and were still an institution today? The fact is that the current NFL leaders and Washington Redskins leaders inherited an organization with a name and mascot that are offensive to some. We have to assume responsibility for the present and respond accordingly. Let's start with a clean slate, and let our actions from this moment forward determine the legacy established for the future.
Image by Gerard Miller.