If you’ve been living under a rock or reside outside of the NFL fandom, you may have missed the decade-long controversy over the Washington Redskins team name, and you may have also missed the controversy over the controversy over the fight to see the name changed to something that’s not so offensive.
Grantland‘s Brian Phillips absolutely nailed the real argument over the name in his piece about Ray Rice and domestic violence when he said, “the real question, for the term’s indignant defenders, has never been ‘Is this word acceptable?’ The real question has been ‘Why wouldn’t this word be acceptable in football [emphasis his], where we’re supposed to be able to do things like this?’” Phillips is, correctly, identifying those in the NFL audience who don’t want to change the name not as tone-deaf idiots, but as people who put football in a sphere outside of real life, insofar as curtailing to social decorum is concerned. After all, this is football we’re talking about, and football ain’t going to bow the knee to nobody, as it were.
For the rest of the universe, though, the phrase “redskin” is probably not something you’d use in polite discourse, and something that you’d probably stop using if you were aware that other people are offended by it. As such, CBS and Fox are no longer requiring that their football analysts use the name, and CBS talking head Phil Simms has decided, mostly, that he’ll probably abstain from uttering the term during broadcasts.
“I would say right now I probably won’t use it,” the former Giants quarterback told NJ.com. “If it’s not a big deal, why use it and offend a few people? I have no stake in the game, as far as I didn’t play for them; I’m not a fan of the Redskins. I understand it’s an emotional decision, it’s an emotional part of their franchise. If it offends people, then I don’t think a majority of people have to be offended by something before you change it.” He also said to USA Today that “my very first thought is it will be ‘Washington’ the whole game.”
This is, undoubtedly, a good thing. Not because it represents an intrusion of real-life considerations into the mythos of the NFL (although it does), or because “Redskins” is a name that deserves to be phased out as soon as possible (although it does), but because CBS and Fox are both offering their analysts the freedom to make their own decisions about how to refer to the Washington football team, rather than mandating that their talking heads be forced into taking a side on the debate by regulating the use of the name. In other words, the networks are allowing their employees leeway in avoiding what has become a contentious, hot-button issue.
The Redskins name is offensive to some people; it is not offensive to others. The side that can draw the moral high ground isn’t really the point of this change — and if certain fans want to continue to use the name, they’re well within their rights to do so. That said, wouldn’t it just be easier for everyone involved to call the team “Washington,” like Simms said? Also of note: There’s no word on what ESPN has to say on the team’s name, but Grantland is part of the ESPN network, so we feel safe in assuming that they’re not under any pressure to continue to use it.