The debate over the Washington Redskins name received another high-profile airing Sunday night, when longtime NBC Sports anchor Bob Costas delivered a halftime essay on the topic.
Costas, whose monologue was promoted several times before and during the Redskins-Cowboys broadcast, asked viewers to consider equivalent terms about other ethnic minorities.
“When considered that way, ‘Redskins’ can’t possibly honor a heritage or noble character trait, nor can it possibly be considered a neutral term,” he said. “It’s an insult, a slur, no matter how benign the present day intent.
“It’s fair to say that for a long time now, and certainly in 2013, no offense has been intended,” he continued. “But if you take a step back, isn’t it clear to see how offense might legitimately be taken?”
While countless media outlets have tackled the subject over the past year, the issue received its widest airing over the past 10 days, after President Obama answered a question on the matter at the end of a lengthy one-on-one interview with the Associated Press.
“If I were the owner of the team and I knew that there was a name of my team — even if it had a storied history — that was offending a sizeable group of people, I’d think about changing it,” Obama said.
That boosted the issue onto virtually every news channel. NBC’s “Meet the Press,” CBS’s “Face the Nation,” ABC’s “This Week,” the NBC Nightly News, CNN’s The “Situation Room,” PBS’s “NewsHour,” the radio shows of both Howard Stern and Rush Limbaugh, and many other programs did either news stories or discussions on the topic.
Redskins players and NFL owners and officials were asked for their thoughts; several members of both groups declined to take sides. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones talked about the name on a Dallas radio station last week – backing his friend, Redskins owner Daniel Snyder — and both Jones and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell dealt with it again Sunday.
“We need to listen, we need to engage, and we need to try to understand what it is,” Goodell said during a pre-game question-and-answer session with fans at AT&T Stadium. “If it’s an element that’s just trying to create change, that’s one thing. If it’s another that is really insulted, we need to be able to deal with that.”
“Dan’s a personal friend of mine, and he’s not insensitive, at all,” Jones then added. “He’s very sensitive. And he’s weighing the very things that [Goodell] just talked about.
“[Snyder is] weighing the enormous sentiment towards the tradition, the one that says the reason we have them is because we think so much of our team,” Jones continued. “In a way, it’s a badge of honor. And there’s certainly different opinions. It would be a real mistake – a real mistake – to think that Dan, who is Jewish, has a lack of sensitivity regarding somebody’s feelings.”
Snyder sent e-mails and letters to tens of thousands of Redskins fans last week, citing public opinion polls and the franchise’s history and tradition while defending the name.
“I respect the opinions of those who disagree,” he wrote. “I want them to know that I do hear them, and I will continue to listen and learn. But we cannot ignore our 81-year history, or the strong feelings of most of our fans as well as Native Americans throughout the country.”
That letter received extensive media coverage, but Costas’s commentary put the topic in front of perhaps its biggest sports audience yet. “Sunday Night Football” averaged 22.6 million viewers entering Sunday night’s game, according to NBC, and is consistently the most watched primetime network broadcast.
Mike Jones contributed from Arlington, Tex.
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