Bob Costas explains his Redskins remarks

October 14, 2013
(Photo by Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images)
(Photo by Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images)

I know I’ll get yelled at for posting this, but I think Bob Costas talking about a D.C. sports issue during what is consistently the highest-rated program on network primetime television is appropriate fodder for this blog. And I think the same thing about Costas discussing that commentary during Dan Patrick’s radio program, as he did Monday morning.

I do think a few of Costas’s points below don’t stand up particularly well. He says he’s okay with the name “Braves,” but also uses the classic old saw, asking if listeners would refer to a group of Native Americans during conversation as Redskins. No, of course not, but you also wouldn’t refer to them as Braves. Or Chiefs. Or Warriors. And using language like “isn’t it clear” will never win an argument; the people on the other side do not, in fact, think it’s clear.

I also thought Patrick made a sort of weak effort at describing the current furor by referring to Dan Snyder’s “never” language, used in that USA Today interview.

“I don’t want somebody to tell me how I’m supposed to think, and Daniel Snyder did that,” Patrick said.

I suppose, but if you don’t want somebody to tell you how you’re supposed to think, you’d best avoid every discussion of this topic. Because everyone, on both sides, attempts to tell you how you’re supposed to think. That’s sort of the point of making an argument, actually. If every column’s premise was “I have no idea what you should think,” the Internet would be a pretty dull place, and we’d all have to listen to music all day.

But, unlike many of my readers, I don’t think Costas crossed some sacred line by talking about this issue at halftime of a football game involving this Redskins team. I sort of suspect if a differently disposed commentator had taken an opposite stance on the matter, the complaints about “stick to football” might not be as loud.

Anyhow, here’s what was said during the approximately eight-minute interview Monday morning. It started with Patrick asking Costas what the reaction to his comments has been.

Costas: “Well I just woke up, but from what I’ve been able to determine from the NBC people, it’s much more muted than the gun thing, and any negative reaction comes from an extreme fringe. I had much more time this time. The difference, as you know, between one minute and two minutes is much greater in television than the difference between two minutes and three minutes. You have enough time to develop a thought. And even if some disagreed, I don’t think they could misunderstand where I was coming from. I’m sure many people saw it, but for those who didn’t, my point was this is not about a political correctness. This nonsense that Braves or Warriors or Chiefs is automatically offensive, it’s silly.

“But Redskins, if you take a step back, we’ve become used to it, because it’s been in common usage for so long. But if you take a step back and you think of what the equivalent of Redskins would be if applied to an African American, a Hispanic, an Asian, or any other ethnic group, then you have to start thinking of it a different way. Or put it in these terms: if you were to walk into a gathering of Native Americans — if you were on a reservation or happened to come across a family of Native Americans in a restaurant, and you began conversing with them — would you feel comfortable referring to them as Redskins? Using the term Redskins over and over again? Once you take a step back, it’s very obvious. And that was the point that I was making.

“I wasn’t even calling for a specific action, although I was implying it. What I was asking the audience to do was to consider that even though — and I went out of my way to say this — CLEARLY no offense is intended. No one should think that Dan Snyder or any NFL official wishes to disrespect, consciously wishes to disrespect Native Americans. But even though no offense is intended, isn’t it clear — if you’re fair — to see how some offense could legitimately be taken? Not necessarily by all Native Americans. I noted that the best polling we have at this point — we may get new polling — but the best polling we have at this point says that a majority of Native Americans say it’s not particularly an issue for them. But for many, it is. And I was just asking the audience to take a step back. They’ve become used to the term Washington Redskins, but think about what it means, and what it might mean if you yourself were a Native American.”

Patrick: “Why now?”

Costas: “Because the issue has come to a head. The issue is out there now. You have an active group that is pushing the issue, there’s a meeting that is going to take place in the next few weeks between NFL officials and the Oneida Nation representatives. President Obama has addressed it. Roger Goodell has addressed it. It’s been editorialized in The Washington Post and other places. It is now a front-burner issue in the NFL. It’s an NFL issue, it’s not a random political issue. And Washington was playing Dallas on our air last night.”

Patrick: “How do you answer the charges of using Football Night in America for what is maybe sports but also social causes?”

Costas: “Nonsense. Nonsense. Dan, I’m surprised. This is so obvious. No, it’s a football issue. It’s right there. It’s a football issue. You guys talked about it on the pregame show, to some extent.”

Patrick: “Bob, I’m giving you a question based on the response, not what I think. I think that it is a sports-related topic. I don’t have any problem. But people are saying, have said already this morning, stick to sports.”

Costas: “People say lots of stuff. I’m sure — and I’m not comparing this in importance, or comparing myself to any of those who crusaded for a worthy cause — but I’m sure that people said if someone wrote in a New York newspaper in 1947, or prior to that, saying it’s wrong that there are not black players in Major League Baseball — stick to sports. Tell me who hit the groundball to short. Don’t talk about Tommie Smith and John Carlos and their clenched fists. Don’t talk about what Billie Jean King has to say. Don’t talk about any of these issues. Just tell me who won the game. There are people that are gonna say that. But very often, sports inevitably has intersected with issues that appear, to some extent, to be outside the field. And on some occasions, sports has actually been the best vehicle for discussing these issues, because sports cuts across so many demographic lines.”

Patrick: “Yeah, I agree with it, I like that we talk about it. I think so many times we’re afraid to talk about race….Even with the name Redskins, it’s not a seismic shift, but I do think we’re seeing a little inertia here. I think Daniel Snyder eventually changes the name. I don’t know when, I just feel like there’s an end game here, and I don’t know if you feel the same way or not. I feel like he became his own worst enemy here by making it about him instead of being understanding about what it means, and who it affects. I don’t want somebody to tell me how I’m supposed to think, and Daniel Snyder did that with Native Americans, and I think that’s where people started to go wait a minute here. Nobody wants to be told what to think or what to do.”

Costas: “Well, I think he backed himself into a corner by saying never. And by digging his heels in. And when you dig your heels in, it makes it more difficult to give in. He didn’t leave himself very much wiggle room, and I’m sure that there are people behind the scenes — the commissioner may be one of them, I’m not going to speak for him — but I’m sure there are people behind the scenes who are trying to ease him towards some sort of resolution here. But if you’ve dug yourself in and said there won’t be any movement whatsoever, this is a non-issue in terms of discussing it, no no never, then it’s going to be harder to compromise.”

Dan Steinberg writes about all things D.C. sports at the D.C. Sports Bog.
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Dan Steinberg · October 14, 2013