If you saw a Native American walking across the street, would you yell out, “Hey, Redskin, you dropped your hat’’?
I don’t believe you would, no matter how strongly you feel that the Washington Redskins should be able to keep their nickname. And I don’t believe Mike Ditka would, either, even though he has come out strongly on the side of intolerance, whether he realizes it or not.
The say-anything coach went off on those of us who want to see the Redskins nickname go the way of medical bloodletting. In an interview with RedskinsHistorian.com — you always save up your best stuff for RedskinsHistorian.com — Ditka railed against the “political correct idiots’’ who find the nickname offensive and want team owner Daniel Snyder to come up with a replacement.
This isn’t about political correctness.
This is about compassion for people who don’t have a voice.
This isn’t about whether you’re liberal or conservative, as Ditka seems to believe.
This is about whether you’re human.
The reason most of us, including Ditka, would never call a Native American “Redskin’’ to his or her face is because we know, at some level, that it’s disrespectful.
This is the last time you’ll see me use the term “Redskins’’ in one of my columns, unless it’s about the nickname controversy. It has been bothering me for a long time. I’ve written often about how wrong it is that we still have a sports franchise using a derogatory nickname for Native Americans.
But there I was last season, using “Redskins’’ over and over again in a column about the Bears’ 45-41 loss to Washington. Why? Laziness, mostly, an insidious thing. There’s not much worse than a lack of action in the face of a wrong.
But Ditka has woken me up, shaken me out of my stupor. And I would call on the Sun-Times to stop using the nickname, as well. Though I don’t pretend to speak for everyone at the newspaper, I’d simply ask whether it would be palatable if we inserted any other skin color into the nickname — the Washington Blackskins, the Washington Whiteskins, the Washington Yellowskins, etc. I think we know the answer.
Ironically, skin color is one of the issues Ditka brought up in his harangue.
“We’re going to let the liberals of the world run this world,’’ he said. “It was said out of reverence, out of pride to the American Indian. Even though it was called a Redskin, what are you going to call them, a Brownskin? This is so stupid it’s appalling, and I hope that owner keeps fighting for it and never changes it because the Redskins are part of an American football history, and it should never be anything but the Washington Redskins. That’s the way it is.
“It’s been the name of the team since the beginning of football. It has nothing to do with something that happened lately or something that somebody dreamed up. This was the name, period. Leave it alone. These people are silly — asinine, actually, in my opinion.”
The argument that the nickname shouldn’t be changed because the franchise has been around a long time is a head- shaker. We’ve changed lots of things that once were considered acceptable. Slavery comes to mind. We’ve evolved.
If Native Americans don’t like the term Redskins, that’s all anybody needs to know on the issue. If any Irish Americans are offended by the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, then I’d suggest they speak up. I haven’t heard any complaints — perhaps because we of Irish heritage are not living in poverty on reservations.
I don’t think this is about a crazy old coot sounding off, as it’s being portrayed in some corners. Ditka is saying out loud what a lot of people, regardless of age, are thinking. (By the way, once you start making fun of someone’s advanced age, you’re not so different from the people making fun of Native Americans. You’re trafficking in an -ism, too.)
The U.S. Patent Court in June ruled that the Washington franchise’s federal trademarks should be canceled, meaning others can make money off the “Redskins’’ nickname. It was the first real shot across Snyder’s bow. The rest of it — Native Americans’ protests, columnists’ screeds, etc. — have done nothing to move the owner. Perhaps he’ll understand the loss of cold cash.
In all fairness, I don’t believe Snyder would say to a passing Native American, “Hey, Redskin, you dropped your hat.’’ I believe he’d say, “Hey, Redskin, you dropped your headdress.’’