The Washington Redskins aren't the only football team facing accusations of having a bigoted name. Across the Atlantic Ocean, police are cracking down on the Tottenham Hotspur football club and its "Yid Army" fanbase, sparking a controversy that, like in America, has divided fans.
There are plenty of Redskins-Yid Army similarities: both began as racist terms, both have sparked controversy, and both led to comments from the top government executive. But it's the differences here that stand out, as Tottenham has the support of the London Jewish population. The Redskins, meanwhile, do not have the support of Native Americans.
The debate about the Redskins name heated up in the past week after President Obama said that if he were the team owner, he would consider changing the name. That unleashed a torrid defense from the name's defenders (and liberal-hating conservative pundits, too). Wednesday morning, current owner Dan Snyder took to The Washington Post with an open letter to promote the pride and "badge of honor" that is the Redskins name.
In opposition to Snyder and other Native American-themed teams, the National Congress of American Indians turned the tables on "Redskins" supporters to show what it feels like to be on the receiving end of a racist name. The group designed the hypothetical team mascots and names of the New York Jews and the San Francisco Chinamen, and, yeah, they're pretty offensive.
But they didn't need to use their imagination; they could have just peered across the pond at the Tottenham Hotspur, which features the "Yid Army" fan base. The London team has a large Jewish following, who are the target of anti-Semitic opposing fans who call them "Yids," a derogatory name for a Jewish person. However, Tottenham fans have re-appropriated that name for their own, and the term has become a point of pride for the team. For example, Tottenham fans happily cheered on one of their own players, Jermaine Defoe, with chants of "Jermaine Defoe, he's a Yiddo" in a game last weekend.
While Tottenham's fans have turned the name into a point of pride, the Yid moniker has brought out anti-Semitic soccer hooligans among opposing fan bases. For example, a match against Italian club Lazio and its right-wing, fascist fans last year brought out hostile slogans and abuse (right). To be clear, "Free Palestine" is not by itself anti-Semitic, but after the game, several Tottenham fans were reportedly beaten up and stabbed by Lazio supporters, and witnesses reported that the attackers were yelling "Jew" during the brawl.
So, in an effort to clean up the rampant bigotry among soccer hooligans, the London police decided to crack down on "the Y-word" last week for everyone, making using the word illegal. And that crackdown includes Tottenham fans, which they are none too happy about, as the fan-made Tottenham/Yid logo crossover to the left shows. Prime Minister David Cameron noted the awkward double standard at play: "There’s a difference between Spurs fans self-describing themselves as Yids and someone calling someone a Yid as an insult. You have to be motivated by hate. Hate speech should be prosecuted but only when it’s motivated by hate," he told the Jewish Chronicle. Still, police began cracking down on violators, and the first Tottenham supporter was arrested for using the word this weekend.
On their face, both Redskins and Yids are inappropriate names, but the two scenarios have a key difference in their support. The Tottenham name has the support of the targeted party, making it similar to how the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) can use the term "colored people."
The Redskins, despite the claims of their owner, don't have that luxury of Native American support.