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FOR RELEASE TUESDAY, FEB. 26, 2013
WASHINGTON ‘R’ WORD REVISITED
BY BOB FRANKEN
There are two reasons I am writing once again about the hateful name of the Washington NFL team. First of all, I am sick and tired of sequestration. There is nothing left except to regurgitate more horror stories about exactly how it’s going to gut our government and take the rest of us down. Besides, if we don’t know by now what Bozos our political leaders are, we never will.
So it’s back to the clowns in football and Washington R-words. There, too, I thought all that could be said had been said, but that reckoned without the team’s general manager, Bruce Allen. He managed to bring the rationalizations to new depths when he was asked to react to calls to come up with a replacement, something not so deeply offensive to Native Americans. His response can be charitably described as dismissive, or less charitably as stupid: “It’s ludicrous to think that in any way we’re trying to upset anybody.”
What’s “ludicrous” is how that comment is so similar to the language of bigots who would cavalierly use the “N-word,” but insisted they weren’t trying to offend or harbored any prejudice, as in “Why, some of my best friends are n----.”
This debate is rekindled after a recent forum at the National Museum of the American Indian, where the name was roundly condemned. It’s an issue that has smoldered for decades, but was sparked anew after the aforementioned symposium. The cause has since been taken up by various public officials and commentators, and in spite of a hard pushback from football fans whose zealotry overcomes their usual tolerance, suddenly the football franchise is playing defense. “We’re 81 years old,” Allen went on, “There’s nothing that we feel is offensive, and we’re proud of our history.”
Let’s consider that history. Washington was the very last in the National Football League to integrate. It wasn’t until 1962 that Bobby Mitchell became the first black player. The owner, George Preston, was fanatically segregationist, stating at one point, “We’ll start signing Negroes when the Harlem Globetrotters start signing whites.”
Actually, he started signing after he was dragged kicking and screaming by various boycotts and the threat of losing a new stadium lease. Was that what Bruce Allen meant when he declared, “We’re proud of our history”?
It’s arguable that he came to his insensitivity naturally. After all, he is the brother of George Allen -- the U.S. senator from Virginia who, while running for re-election in 2006, made the term “Macaca” famous when he hurled the word at an Indian-American political operative from the opposition. It’s a slur. Allen claimed he didn’t know that. He lost.
That same year, The Washington Post reported that in the ’70s while he was in college, Allen regularly used the N-word. He rejected the story as “ludicrously false.” Today, we have his brother Bruce calling criticism of his team’s R-word “ludicrous.” If you think it’s unfair to bring in the Allen family, ponder how unfair the team’s name is to Native Americans.
Even with no indication that it’s going to change, suggestions for an alternative are flying around. You’ve seen some here. Several have suggested “Pigskins,” which may be the best of the lot. First of all, everyone could still call the gang the ’Skins. It also would pay homage to a small group called the “Hogettes.” These were mostly middle-age and decidedly out-of-shape guys who would go to games wearing women’s clothes and pig noses. I am not making this up. They have just announced that they are packing in their snouts after 30 years, but they deserve to be remembered. Besides, the team plays in a town where so many feed at the public trough.
Whatever, the R-word has to go. Right now, it really means “racist.”
© 2013 Bob Franken
Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.