Slate's Ban on the Word 'Redskins' Is Nice, but Pointless

As America gears up for the nationwide beer and nacho party is that the new NFL season, Slate is taking a principled stand against one of the sports' most unfortunate mistakes: The Washington Redskins. 

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As America gears up for the nationwide beer and nacho party that is that the new NFL season, Slate is taking a principled stand against one of the sports' most enduring mistakes: The Washington Redskins. They have nothing against the team itself, which is a fine collection of nice gentleman, but that name is a real problem and has been for years. Despite protests, lawsuits, and a lot of unfortunate memorabilia, the nickname has stuck and the team's billionaire owner is never ever letting it go.

So Slate, which is not a sports site and only occasionally writes about the team or the league, is boycotting the name, as it is an obviously offensive slur against Native Americans. Anytime they have to refer to the Redskins, Slate writers and editors will simply call them "Washington" or "those guys who play in FedEx Field."

It's a noble sentiment. The Redskins is a terrible name and the logo highly questionable, and team owner Dan Snyder is an awful despot who has tormented and abused his loyal fans for years. However, this word boycott is a poor solution that is unlikely to help the cause they are pursuing. There's a few reasons why:

You can't change history. The Redskins have been around for 80 years, they've won five NFL championships, and sent more than 20 players to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Pretending the name doesn't exist won't make it go away and won't take those names out of the record books, in the same way the putting an asterisk next to Roger Maris's name didn't stop him from breaking Babe Ruth's home run record. If the Redskins voluntarily change their name, that's a different a story, but as long as they call themselves the Redskins ... then they are the Redskins.

It's bad journalism. If you want to editorialize, editorialize, but if you're reporting on a real thing and won't call it by its name just because you don't like what the name is, that's not doing your job very well.

It won't do any good. You know those people, who the minute you tell them that they can't or shouldn't do something immediately want to do that thing? (You might even be one of them.) That's Dan Snyder. He's the kind of guy who makes employees sign agreements to never sue him for any reason, then sues anyone and everyone who has ever slighted him. And tried to sue a reporter for libel for pointing that fact out. (Back in 2010, Dan McKenna, formerly of the Washington City Paper, wrote the most thorough and vicious takedown of Snyder's many faults as a businessman and football owner.) Snyder's defense of the name is despicable and his tactics to keep it are worse, but the louder people complain the more determined he is to not give in.

Slate knows this, of course. They're just trying to make a point and that's great. But it's ultimately an empty gesture that appears to take on the Redskins establishment, but actually lets them off the hook. You can't fix a blemish by looking away hard enough. Better to complain about Snyder and his attempts to fleece fans and taxpayers than pretend to ignore a name.

Contrast that with this story, also published today, of two Detroit Lions teammates — one black and one white — who frequently greet each other with the most offensive racial slur they can (respectively) call each other. They're best friends from college and admit they would never call each other "nigga" and cracker" outside the relatively private confines of the locker room, but it still forces their other teammates, both black and white, to confront a complicated issue the surrounds one of the most racially diverse work environments you can find.

But what the two men are doing, in their own small way, is having a conversation about race and vocabulary and respect for other. Yes, it's a small way, but that conversation is much more meaningful than one that deliberately looks the other way. It won't end the use of hateful racial slurs and probably won't make the Lions a better football team, but it might just make a few of them think harder about the power of words.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.