Chris Cooley and Bob Costas squared off on ESPN’s ‘Outside the Lines’

September 3
(Chris Cooley by John McDonnell/The Washington Post; Bob Costas by LM Otero/Associated Press)
(Chris Cooley by John McDonnell/The Washington Post; Bob Costas by LM Otero/Associated Press)

ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” devoted an hour-long episode Tuesday night to the debate over the Redskins’ name. It included an interview with owner Daniel Snyder, who repeated many of the talking points he had established in an August discussion with Chris Cooley on ESPN 980.

Speaking of Cooley, he also made an appearance on the show, and he was paired with Bob Costas. The latter had made his opinion on the team’s name known during halftime of a nationally televised Redskins-Cowboys game last season. At that time, Costas said: “‘Redskins’ can’t possibly honor a heritage or noble character trait, nor can it possibly be considered a neutral term. It’s an insult, a slur, no matter how benign the present day intent.” Cooley, of course, had a different take on the matter.

[New poll says 71 percent of Americans believe Redskins should not change name.]

Costas kicked things off by explaining that the thoughts he gave about the Redskins were appropriate in the context of his role as halftime commentator, as opposed to something a play-by-play guy such as Al Michaels might say during the course of a game.

“OTL” host Bob Ley then asked Cooley what he thought of the way the media, in general, have covered the issue of the Redskins’ name. Cooley mentioned a “PC correctness to what everyone says” in the media before talking about his experiences visiting Native American reservations. Ley interrupted Cooley and reframed his question, but the former Redskins returned to his tale of visiting reservations with Snyder.

This caused Ley to cut Cooley off and say, “You’re not answering my question about the media, Chris, I’m gonna ask it a third time. Is the media well-informed?” Cooley answered, “I don’t think the media is well-informed at this point, and I would make this point to go along with it: If you want to be well-informed, you spend time actually talking to people and you spend time doing the research. I’m not saying that one person in the media is not well-informed, but I’m saying the vast majority of people are not well-informed.”

Ley then asked Costas if the Redskins issue had become a “cause célèbre” for some in the media. “Well, to some extent, yes,” said the NBC Sports host. “And, for those on one side of the issue, all who have any questions or objections about the Redskins name are motivated by political correctness. And some may be, but for many of us, that has nothing to do with it. Let me make this clear, and I implied this in my commentary a year ago: Political correctness generally is dopey. It gets in the way of honest and fair debate, it silences people of goodwill who fear being mislabeled, and it imposes a kind of orthodoxy of thought and speech that isn’t healthy.

“But distinctions need to be made,” Costas continued. “And to me, here’s the key, all other concerns and arguments aside — ‘Redskins’ is a dictionary-defined slur and insult. Not by one dictionary, but by every one I’ve consulted, and I’ve consulted several. ‘Term of disparagement,’ ‘pejorative,’ ‘insulting,’ ‘offensive,’ ‘a slur.’ None — none — of those terms is ever applied in any dictionary to nicknames otherwise associated with Native Americans, like Braves, Chiefs or Warriors. As I said at the time, objections to those nicknames, unless those objections had to do with rituals or symbols that were blatantly insulting, objections to those nicknames is actually political correctness run amok.

“But there’s a reasoned objection to the nickname ‘Redskins’ by people who fully understand that that issue is not as important as jobs, or education, or health care, but it’s what we’re talking about because it’s a football issue and we’re on a sports-related program.”

Cooley was given a chance to respond. “I just don’t feel that the intent or the context of the team ‘Washington Redskins’ is to be disparaging in any way. The team ‘Washington Redskins’ is meant out of respect, it’s meant out of honor, it’s meant out of integrity. And it’s not just the team, and the players, and the coaches that have been a part of this organization for 80 years, it’s Native Americans spread throughout our country on reservations who are very proud of that name. It’s people like Wade Colliflower, it’s people like Robert Doore, who adore the name, who are proud of what it is, who don’t want that name to change.”

Ley referred to a seemingly flippant June radio-show discussion of the name in which Cooley had engaged. “Bob, at that point I decided that this was more of a serious issue than I had ever understood,” Cooley said. “And that was the moment in my life where I said, ‘If I want to talk about this in any way, shape or form, I have to talk about this with a background. I have to talk about this with a base of knowledge, and I have to start to talk to Native Americans. Because those are the people that really matter. It’s not sports writers and sports personalities who need to tell me the potency of a word, and the meaning of a word, it’s the actual people behind the word that can tell me that meaning.’ And that’s when I started going out and visiting the different reservations.”

Costas was then asked about what it would take for the other NFL owners to force a name change. “Well, obviously the consensus has not come together yet, your own polling indicates that, but there is movement, as there has been with other issues, Costas said. “Just as the meaning  and the implications of the word ‘Redskins’ has evolved over time, regardless of the original intent — and I want to say here, if it isn’t clear already, I don’t think there’s any maliciousness in Dan Snyder’s position, or that he’s intentionally disrespecting anyone, at least up until now — but the tide is shifting a little bit.

“And eventually, the reason, I think, the NFL and Dan Snyder should come around on this is not because of  coercion, not because of legal action, not because of overblown accusations of racism, but because reasonable arguments persuade them that it’s the right thing to do. This is not a question of political correctness. It should be done out of common sense, common courtesy and common decency.”

And that was the final word in that particular discussion. I’m going to guess that very few people were swayed from one side to the other by anything Cooley or Costas had to say, but just the fact that a debate, and indeed a whole hour of reporting, was aired on the topic has to be viewed as better news for name-change supporters. On the other hand, keep-the-name partisans can take comfort in the fact that Snyder and Cooley are as adamant as ever that “Redskins” is here to stay, and that recent poll numbers agree with their position.

This former editor and part-time writer at The Post is now happy to prove that if you combine 'blowhard' and 'blaggard,' you get 'blogger.' He previously had used 'Desmond Bieler' as his byline, but feels that shortening the first name to 'Des' nicely conveys his ever-decreasing gravitas. He also covers Fantasy Football.
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