Up is down, black is white…

…and “context” means “no context,” according to Daniel Snyder.

In one of his recent media appearances in defense of Washington’s team name, Snyder was asked by ESPN’s John Barr, “What is a Redskin?”

Snyder responded:

“A Redskin is a football player. A Redskin is our fans. The Washington Redskins fan base represents honor, represents respect, represents pride. Hopefully winning…And, and, it, it’s a positive. Taken out of context, you can take things out of context all over the place. But in this particular case, it is what it is. It’s very obvious.”

(my bold).

I’m of mixed minds about interviews like these. Of course, as the team’s owner, Snyder is highly relevant to this discussion. Indeed, he’s the single most important figure in the team’s name controversy, insofar as he is the final arbiter about whether it stays or goes. And obviously, he is adamant that it stays.

On the other hand, unless the interviewer really pushes and challenges Snyder, we’re only going to get corporate PR. The upshot is the kind of nonsense quoted above, where Snyder has rendered words meaningless. Of course, on one basic level, the name means whatever the hell Snyder wants it to mean. But I’m not sure we’ve learned anything new from this and similar exchanges. Except that Snyder doesn’t have a particularly good grasp of what the word “context” means.

Unfortunately, debates about the name inevitably invoke charges of “political correctness.” As I’ve said before, the term is freighted with ill-conceived premises. One thing that struck me about it today – I heard both Mike Golic (who has no problem with the name) and Dan Patrick (who is more critical) – is how bizarrely dismissive it is. Think about what, for example, Mike Golic is saying when he laments the “PC world” we live in which, presumably, is why Dan Snyder has to fend off these attacks. Native Americans in the United States have been the victims of an historic genocide in this country. Today, of their remaining descendants, many continue to languish in miserable conditions on reservations. It is absolutely fair to argue that, as a community, they have bigger problems to worry about than what the name of an NFL team is (though coming from Snyder, sorry to say, that’s a totally self-serving argument). Among the remnants of their subjugation and slaughter is a legacy, reflected in language, of their dehumanization.

Unsurprisingly, many (though far from all, of course) find that language offensive and objectionable. To dismiss that as “PC” is, quite simply, the height of ignorance, a total lack of understanding of the context in which language becomes contested and controversial.

And one thing I am confident of – Dan Snyder would not feel the same way about a team with one of these nicknames.


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