On some level I felt sorry for Anthony Federico, the ESPN editor who was fired earlier this week for his unfortunate “chink in the armor” headline regarding Knicks point guard Jeremy Lin.
Prior to focusing myself solely on opining about football and using my investigative journalism skills to find Tim Tebow auto-tune songs, I was one of the editors of theScore.com, and I sometimes worked the graveyard shift. There were busy nights when I wouldn’t punch a clock that didn’t exist until 3 a.m., so in the rare times when a major story broke in those dreary hours, the creative Ron MacLean pun section of my brain trusted to create witty headlines was fast asleep.
That’s when you give up, slap up a tired sports cliché, and return to the story later with a fresh mind to try again. Unfortunately, when Frederico broke that glass case the mental alarms that should have been blaring were in REM sleep too, and when he reached into the dusty book of clichés he pulled out a derogatory term.
It didn’t take long for the societal commentary that followed to spill into the NFL. Earlier this week John Banzhaf, a law professor at George Washington University, wondered why there was such a harsh and immediate reaction to a common phrase that’s used often, while the professional football team in Washington is still playing under a name that can’t possibly be interpreted as being anything other than derogatory.
From the D.C. Sports Bog:
“My guess would be, far more people would find the deliberate use of the word ‘redskins,’ which has no other meaning, much more derogatory and offensive than saying that somebody has a chink in his armor, a phrase which appears in the news with regard to dozens of other situations.”
While he speaks logically, it’s clear that Banzhef is the kind of American dreaming suit who’s made a living filing lawsuits. He’s fought familiar foes like the tobacco and food industries in the past, and he’s now suggesting that the broadcast licenses of networks who use the term “redskin” should be challenged.
That’s perhaps stretching the quest for politically- and racially-correct language to its extreme, a mission that’s dead right now anyway after the U.S. Supreme Court refused to take on a case from a group of Native Americans in 2009. The group was seeking a name change by the Redskins, but the highest court in the land didn’t even entertain the idea because the name had been in place too long.
The same argument has been made against baseball’s Indians and Braves, the Florida State Seminoles, and many others, but at least there’s a poor defense for those team monikers. They can claim that they’re honoring a heritage, even though Cleveland thought it was a good idea to change its mascot to a friendly purple dinosaur that couldn’t possibly offend anyone, unless he’s getting dry-humped by drunks.
The Redskin name remains a sensitive and emotionally charged issue whenever it’s questioned, with some saying any push for change demonstrates political correctness run amok, and is akin to calling tall, green, decorated tress “holiday trees” in December instead of Christmas trees.
Other more reasonable minds see outrage over a common albeit severely misplaced phrase that can be heard nearly every night on sports broadcasts, and wonder why that draws so much angst while we continue to allow a team to refer to itself under a name that invokes prejudice against a group of people.