Hours after the private racist statements of Donald Sterling, the NBA Los Angeles Clipper’s owner became public, millions of people, from players, owners, fans, indeed the whole sports industry and many in the general public went appropriately apoplectic. In unity they said the National Basketball Association must take decisive action. Clipper players engaged in symbolic acts of protest before their first playoff game. Threats of player and fan boycott preceded the second game.
Outraged at Sterling’s racism, Americans inside and out of the sports world waited to hear what action NBA commissioner Adam Silver would take. It had to be of consequence, they insisted, a strong message that racism in today’s society is socially unacceptable. Silver banned Sterling for life from NBA events. Arguing Sterling violated Article 13, Section d. of the NBA Bylaws,Silver said he would push Sterling to sell the Clippers. A month later the team was sold to a new owner.
Contrast this with the long public campaign to get Daniel Snyder, owner of the National Football League’s Washington Redskins, to follow the lead of dozens of amateur sports teams and drop the racist Native American name in favor of a socially responsible moniker. Snyder has vehemently refused, expressing his commitment to the racist tradition in public discourse beginning in 2003. In May 2013,Snyder told USA Sports:
“We’ll never change the name. […] It’s that simple. NEVER — you can use caps.”
Snyder defends his overt embracement of the racist Redskin moniker as a “tradition he has celebrated since he was a kid so it would be difficult to change.”
Snyder’s public racism has failed to ignite the level of anguish let alone outrage that Sterling’s private statements manifested. Inexplicably, Snyder’s form of racism is deemed different; ‘subject to debate,’ its societal status to be determined by popular opinion polls and Snyder’s public relations inspired philanthropy. True, Senate majority leader Harry Reid and a few others, most notably Richard Sherman of the Seattle Seahawks, have made the explicit connection between Snyder and Sterling’s embracement of racism. Reid even called on the NFL to get ‘an assist’ from the NBA and take decisive action toward Snyder’s racism.
My question is: why is there no alliance of NFL players, coaches, the Commissioner and yes, owners protesting Daniel Snyder’s overt racism in the same way the NBA ‘family’ rallied so quickly and furiously against Donald Sterling’s private racist comments?
Why has NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell not brought to bear Article 8, Section A of the NFL Constitution and Bylaws, that gives him authority similar to the NBA commissioner to hold NFL officials accountable for actions detrimental to his league?
Why have the Washington players not made a collective symbolic gesture of disapproval, let alone call for a boycott of their team’s games or all NLF games? Why haven’t they joined the Oneida Tribe’s boycott against public use of ‘Redskin?’
Why have few if any in the sports media asked them or their coaches “how can you play for that racist owner Snyder?“ as they did with Sterling? In a league that is at least 65% African-American, why has the vast majority of players left a few, most notably Sherman and former ‘Redskin’ Jason Taylor, to connect the dots about racism in general and anti-Native American racism in particular?
Do not the legacy and accomplishments of Jim Thorpe, a NFL Hall of Famer and first American Professional Football Association President, in addition to many other Native American sports figures, matter to them nor to the NFL ‘family?” More to the point, why has the sports industry in general not taken a stand on the Native American issue? Racism does not selectively discriminate among the various sports ‘families.’ Racism in one sport affects all others. Call it the “Jackie Robinson Effect.”
The history of social movements tells us that collective consciousness and action can move mountains in a progressive direction. Unity of action across all sports is the only effective way to rid us not only of the vulgar and racist ‘Redskin,’ but of the Cleveland Indian’s Chief Wahoo with his ‘shit eating’ grin. Only a unified front is likely to end the offensive use of all Native American ‘mascots.’ Divided, the Donald Sterling’s and Daniel Snyder’s can do what they want with impunity. They could even, if they wanted to, own a team named the Colorado Kikes or Wisconsin Wops. But of course they dare not do so. Powerful people with a loud political megaphone, who currently sit silent on the name ‘Redskin,’ would vehemently object.
The Sterling incident galvanized a whole community of people, many of who had never acted out of social awareness. Some, like former NBA player Charles Barkley, now threaten a player boycott for the 2014-15 NBA season if Sterling remains a NBA owner. Yet, it remains a mystery as to where they stand on the ‘Redskin’ issue. Do they buy into ‘let’s rank degrees of racism’ so that a private request not to bring Black friends to an NBA game is socially unacceptable while a request that a team drop its racist name and caricature is a case of ‘political correctness run amuck’ as some notable political pundits insist? Acts of racism and anti-racism, no matter their specific nature, are neither politically incorrect nor politically correct.They are acts of social irresponsibility or responsibility. There is a big difference.
In just a few weeks, the sports media will spotlight NFL teams as they begin training for the 2014-15 season. Now is an opportune time for the NFL, the Commissioner, players, coaches and fans, indeed the entire sports industry to take the same strong stand against racism in the NFL as was taken in the NBA. Let’s not be put in the same position about Daniel Snyder as many were with Donald Sterling: “Oh, didn’t you know? He’s been a racist for a long time.”
Beau Grosscup, PH.D, teaches at CSU, Chico; he author grew up in Oxford, Ohio, home of the Miami University Redskins, now Redhawks. He went to graduate school at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, home of the Redmen, now Minutemen.