After President Obama added his voice to the growing calls to change the name of the Washington Redskins football team, several conservative commentators doubled down in support of the name, and tried to figure out the real reason the liberal media opposes it. Despite the racially offensive name, for these conservative pundits, the whole controversy is just a liberal ploy for their own ends. And they have plenty of theories on what those ends are.
The majority of people still do support the Redskins name, as an Associated Press poll this summer found 80 percent opposed to changing it. But Obama's position — he said he'd think about changing it if he were the owner and if people were offended by it — comes amidst a growing mood against the mascot from several prominent sportswriters, including Sports Illustrated's Peter King and Grantland's Bill Simmons. Similarly, liberal-minded non-sports publications like Slate, The New Republic, and Mother Jones came out against the name as well, even though they had rarely used it previously.
Because of those outlets, Rush Limbaugh sees this controversy as a case of the liberal media out of control, and not of regular sportscasters offended by the name. In fact, Limbaugh argued on his show this week that Native Americans have always been proud of the name. "Just like the proponents of Redskins will tell you it's in honor of. It was never intended to offend anybody," he said. That's not true, obviously, as this fairly offensive illustration from a 1963 Eagles-Redskins game program shows, courtesy of sports graphic designer Todd Radom. Can you really look at that portrayal of a Native American being torn apart by a bald eagle and say that is an honor?
But Limbaugh was just one of several conservatives to make similar comparisons since Obama's comments. Columnist Rich Lowry came out on Tuesday in defense of Redskins at The National Review, saying "Yes, the name 'Redskins' is an anachronism, but it is a harmless one." Conservative radio host Kevin Jackson at The Black Sphere writes that the name originally "was a show of respect." In a recent column on Mediaite, conservative sports analyst Joe Concha noted similar points as Limbaugh, saying that the name has been around since 1932 and never sparked controversy until now, and so therefore it should totally be fine.
But the name 'Redskins' has been criticized many times before now, of course — ESPN's Pardon the Interruption host Tony Kornheiser came out against the name all the way back in 1992. And even if it hadn't been criticized before, that doesn't mean it's not offensive now. It used to be okay to call African Americans "colored." Times change. That's not okay now. Back in 2002, Lee Bockhorn defended high school mascots like the "Apaches" in The Weekly Standard, but added, "I'm willing to grant that the Washington Redskins' moniker is distasteful."
The defense of "Redskins" began before Obama's comments, though, almost as soon as some media outlets started the push to drop the name. S. T. Karnick wrote earlier this year at The Daily Caller that, "For the record, the name 'Redskins' doesn’t offend me in the slightest." And National Review writer Dennis Prager accused liberals of being overly sensitive and that "some people" are offended by everything, and we can't just listen to all of them.
So since conservatives have decided that Redskins is not offensive, why, in their understanding, is there any controversy? As Limbaugh explains to his listeners, "This is being totally driven by the media. This is not being driven by fans. It's not being driven by people in football. It's totally driven by leftist activists in the media." No one who counts is mad about it: "The Redskins fans are not upset. The Redskin donor class, season ticket holders, they're not upset. The Redskins players are not upset. RG3 doesn't care. There's nobody upset." Other conservative pundits have agreed; this is the work of liberal media elites ginning up a non-existent problem.
This, of course, ignores the many non-political sportswriters, Native Americans, and generally empathetic people who have come out against the name. GOP Oklahoma Rep. Tom Cole said in an interview this weekend that the Redskins name was "inappropriate" and "offensive." Obama's comments took the most heat from the Redskins team counsel Lanny Davis, a self-described Obama supporter who previously was Bill Clinton general counsel before becoming a lobbyist for a variety of despots.
But for conservative pundits, this controversy is solely the result of the liberal media. Why, in their minds, do liberals care about the Redskins name, since nobody really thinks it's offensive? Conservative pundits have many theories:
Liberals want chaos to seize power:
- Limbaugh said on his show that "the whole point here is chaos. The whole point here is attack tradition and institutions. That's the whole point of the left, just upset every applecart they can." It's not clear how chaos benefits an entrenched liberal establishment. But Limbaugh is positive the media just wants to show off its strength. "Media driven, media led, media trying to demonstrate the power they think they've got, the influence they think they have, pressure that they think they can bring to bear on something. This is an exercise in flexing muscles as much as it is anything else."
Liberals care too much about political correctness
Joe Concha at Mediaite blames the controversy on the "recent rise in political correctness and white guilt," he writes. He argues that since the name has been around so long, and so it should be fine.
- "Teaching people to take offense is one of the Left’s black arts," Dennis Prager wrote at the National Review in August. "Outside of sex and drugs, the Left is pretty much joyless and it kills joy constantly. The war on the 'Redskins' name is just the latest example."
Liberals love big government
- S. T. Tarnick in The Daily Caller writes the the "real reason" the Redskins name debate is important is "because of its implications for the role of government in our lives." Some liberals want the government to use subsidies to forcibly change the team's name, and Tarnick writes that we should not let that happen. "[T]he granting of government subsidies and the use of them to enable the state to manipulate individuals and institutions is wasteful and wrong. It’s a way to make private institutions dependent on — and therefore far more responsive to — government directives." With respect to the Redskins name, it's a bit of a straw man, as Obama hasn't suggested anything like that.
Obama wants a distraction from real issues:
- The inimitable Donald Trump thinks Obama's comments are just a giant false flag.
Government is shut down yet Obama is now harassing the privately owned @Redskins to change its name.He needs to focus on his job!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 7, 2013
- Concha makes this point, too, at Mediaite, writing, "For his first four years in office, Mr. Obama never commented on it. Only now does he suddenly take issue with it." Why now, the words implicitly ask? Because he wants to distract from the real problems, the piece suggests.
Liberals are total hypocrites:
Several commentators suggested that Redskins is just a regular old relic of history, and we can't go about changing everything just because times have changed. Liberals just don't understand history and are being hypocritical.
- Rich Lowry at the National Review writes that criticizing the Redskins name is as crazy as criticizing the Pittsburgh Pirates name. "No one stops to object that the Barbary pirates did terrible things centuries ago, as do Somali pirates today, and that therefore everyone in Pittsburgh is making light of murder and mayhem on the high seas." Pirates are not a race of people, though, with a distinct skin color.
- Prager notes at the National Review that Slate stopped using Redskins by citing the name as a relic of the past, like calling African Americans "colored people." Prager fires back at Slate, asking, "why doesn’t it call on the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (the NAACP), to change its name?" The difference, of course, is that the NAACP's name was decided and is still supported by "colored people," whereas white people chose the "Redskins" name.
This is another example of ideas that need not be that controversial — really, would anyone choose "Redskins" as a team name nowadays? — instead causing conservatives to double down on the opposite side when any liberals at all take one side. So take note, liberal media elite: If you really want to end the Washington football name, yell your support from the top of your lungs. Conservative pundits will surely take the other side.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.