Several introductory points.
1) How about Andy Pollin’s newly launched Sports Reporters program on SportsTalk 570 landing interviews with Brett Favre and Bob Costas in the same morning? That’s not bad booking. (Listen to these and other interviews here. Read a summary of the Favre interview here.)
2) Of all the zillions of things I’ve published on the Redskins name issue — because it’s interesting to me, even though I have no opinion, and because it’s in the news — none got as much traffic as Bob Costas at halftime. Nothing else was close to Bob Costas at halftime, really.
3) Most of the comments at the bottom of this item will be anti-Costas, and that’s fine. One of his points, though, I strongly agree with. This Redskins issue has made people be meaner to each other in my comments section than almost anything else I’ve ever covered. So maybe try not to be mean to each other today, okay?
Anyhow, Pollin and Jon Saraceno talked at length with Costas Thursday morning about the issue and his recent commentary, and near the end of the conversation Pollin asked a question many fans have asked in recent months: Why now? Costas answered the question, but also revealed that, without fanfare, he has tried to avoid saying the Redskins team name for several years.
“Well, the Oneida Nation has registered some protests,” Costas said, when asked why now. “They’ve asked to meet with league officials. Somebody asked President Obama about it. He didn’t mention it gratuitously — he answered the question, he didn’t bring the subject up himself. When the president addresses it, then it brings additional attention to it. There have been some columns written of late. So as I said, the issue bubbled to the surface.
“A number of people said, if it hasn’t been an issue up until now, then why is it an issue? Well, you know, a lot of things sort of lay dormant for a long time, and then eventually the moment is right. We’ll see if the moment is right now. But if something is an injustice – and if this is an injustice, let’s be realistic, it’s a MILD one. Just because I addressed it doesn’t mean I think it’s the most important thing in the world. It’s far from the most important issue facing the National Football League, it’s far from the most important issue facing Native Americans, who face very serious issues. But if we only talked about the most important issues, then no one would ever talk about whether they should have instant replay in baseball, and they would never talk about a zillion other things.
“We spend a whole lot of time talking about things that aren’t necessarily at the top of the importance pyramid,” Costas continued. “So this is somewhere in the middle, or beneath. But it is an issue, and it’s come to the surface again, and that’s why it’s been addressed. For my own part, I’ve actually tried – without saying anything to anybody – over the last several years, I’ve tried to avoid saying Redskins, because I just felt uncomfortable with it. I know that I’ve slipped a few times. But by and large, I’ve tried to avoid it.”
Saraceno had previously asked Costas about the reaction to his remarks, which was in some cases pretty agitated.
“Well, that’s what’s happening in America now,” the broadcaster said. “There is not much civil discourse. And it comes from both sides, from both sides. There are cable equivalents on both sides. There are talk-radio equivalents, although there’s more conservative talk radio just by number than liberal, I guess – but the blogosphere is filled with those kind of attacks, coming from every direction….
“Unfortunately, in the world in which we live, it seems that a large number of commentators, bloggers, whatever it may be feel that they’re not just at liberty — as they should be — to disagree with your argument on the merits. But if they disagree with you, then they’re free to characterize you as a person any way they want, often baselessly. To apply to you a whole series of beliefs which make a cartoon out of you. For example, a good portion of people who have commented on this think I’m some sort of doctrinaire liberal left-wing guy, which people who know me would be very surprised to hear. So that sort of thing is discouraging. Not to me personally, but the way the discourse in the country is now, there’s less of a chance to have a nuanced conversation about the issues.”
As for the merits of the case itself, Costas again laid out his argument that this is a football issue, and that the name is offensive.
“The Washington Redskins, as they are known, were playing on NBC that night,” he said. “The issue, which has been there, and has bubbled to the surface from time to time over the years, has once again come to the surface because of renewed protests and renewed focus on the issue. So it was pertinent; it was not just football-related but about football. The idea that this was somehow injecting politics — that it’s akin to talking about Syria or the debt limit at halftime — is ridiculous. This is a football-related issue.
“Now, it may have some political overtones; people perceive it as being a matter of political correctness or liberalism vs. conservatism, but I didn’t see it that way at all. And in fact, my whole plea here was to not look at this as political correctness. Political correctness, by and large, is dopey. It runs against common sense, and it keeps us from having honest conversations about real issues and creates needless double standards that rightly annoy people. People rightly roll their eyes at political correctness. But this is not that.
“I refer you to the dictionary,” Costas said. “I consulted five. All five dictionaries I consulted define Redskins as pejorative, derogatory, insulting, offensive. Those were the four words used. None of those words — NONE — are part of any definition of Braves or Chiefs or any other team name associated with Native Americans. Now, sometimes, inappropriate symbols or inappropriate rituals can offend people when a team is known as Braves, Chiefs, Chippewas, whatever. But by definition, those names alone are not offensive. There’s no reason to change those names. You might want to reconsider some of the logos or some of the other things, but the names themselves are not offensive. The name Redskins, by definition, is.
“I also went out of my way in the commentary to say that I don’t think that 99 percent of the people who utter the terms Redskins and who root for the Redskins if that’s the case, they have no racial or ethnic bias behind it,” he added. “They just don’t think about it. So what I said was, consider taking a step back and realize that while no offense is intended, can’t you see — if you look at it this way, if you look at the possibility of an equivalent term applied to African Americans, Hispanics, Asians, whatever it might be — can’t you see that offense could reasonably taken? That was my point. As you said, I thought it was a fair, reasonable, even-handed commentary. Which, naturally, in the world in which we live, unleashed a tsunami of unreasonable, over the top, ad hominem attacks. And that comes with the territory.”