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James Brown on Redskins name change: ‘Do the right thing’

James Brown, Phil Simms and Warren Sapp. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty)

On Thursday, CBS sportscaster and D.C. native James Brown joined actress Whoopi Goldberg and same-sex marriage advocate Evan Wolfson on a panel as part of CBS News’ live symposium, “50 Years Later: Civil Rights.” Toward the end of a 20-minute discussion about how the equal rights movement has evolved, moderator Bob Schieffer asked Brown what he thought would happen with the Redskins name controversy.

“Ooh,  putting me on the spot here. Where’s Alvin Patrick on this one (my producer at CBS News),” Brown joked before turning serious. “Bob, I firmly believe that this is a people issue. If, in fact — to me, this is my opinion only, not representing CBS Sports, or News — if the name is offensive to a group of people, then do the right thing and change the name. It’s as simple as that.

“I know people will engage in an argument and say, well it hasn’t been an issue all this time. Yeah, well, the civil rights issue was one where ‘that’s just the way it was’ for a long period of time, right? So that holds no basis and substance to me. Do the right thing. You know, a number of years ago, when I was a kid, there was a restaurant chain called Sambo’s, which, as I understand was the last name of two guys who owned the restaurant chain. But it was offensive to black people, so they changed the name, except for the one franchise in California I believe it was. Well, so, if in fact it’s offensive to Native Americans — and there doesn’t have to be unanimity on this, and don’t just have a intractable attitude saying, I’m not going to change — that’s wrong as far as I’m concerned. I’ll get in trouble with that, but I stand on principle.”

(Schieffer’s question is at 17:15 of the video below.)

Brown’s response to Schieffer was a slightly stronger take than the one he offered during an appearance with LaVar and Dukes on 106.7 The Fan last Friday, when he was asked about CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus’s comments about leaving the decision of whether or not to use the Redskins name  during the football season to each individual broadcaster.

“Sean McManus has never told us what to say or what not to say,” Brown said Friday. “I know that he is confident in the professional capabilities of those he has hired to work for him, knowing that we’re always going to do our homework and not do anything to create the news, but to make certain that we’re being fair in terms of how we go about doing it. I’m interested to hear, because I’m not sure where a lot of people stand on this.

“At the end of the day, I would always just want people to do the right thing, and I know you’re not going to get unanimity, in terms of even those who have a problem with it. …It’s not all Native Americans who say they have an issue with it, but my attitude has always been, if it’s offensive to somebody, and it’s not just trying to be politically correct, then why not be properly sensitive to them and do the right thing? That’s just kind of my attitude and I know the company understands how I feel about this as well, too, but I’m interested to see how this plays out.”

Brown added that he doesn’t sense any discord between CBS and the NFL’s decision-makers on the issue, including McManus, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, Patriots owner and chairman of the NFL Broadcast Committee Robert Kraft and CBS President Les Moonves.

“It seems to me, again, there is no discomfort among the brain trust in terms of how this is to be done, other than to be properly sensitive,” Brown said. “If there are announcers who will just say ‘Washington,’ then so be it. Or, if they decide to use the nickname, the moniker, there is no issue until this is resolved one way or the other.”