My two children are all but genetically predisposed to like the Washington professional football team. I grew up here. My parents grew up here. All of their aunts, uncles and cousins are fans. The soundtrack to our occasional gatherings with extended family on Sundays often includes their aunt shouting at the television over a good (or bad) play. So it’s no surprise, really, that they followed suit.
That genetic predisposition was the source of an uncomfortable conversation in my house this morning about, of all things, a trip to Build-a-Bear for a birthday party.
“I’m going to use my leftover gift card to buy a Redskins outfit for my bear,” my seven-year-old announced.
So we had to have the talk.
“I don’t think so, honey. I think you should pick something else,” I told her.
She wanted to know why and I had to tell her that the D.C. team—her team—has become a political statement, and not a good one. She has heard about this before, to some extent. We’ve talked about liking the team, but the name being an offensive word for a group of people. We’ve also agreed that we hope they will change the name, choosing something brave and fierce, but respectful.
I’m glad we’ve had the opportunity to have these conversations about how important it is to always choose your words carefully, because language has great power to do harm. We’ve talked about it before, and in her eyes, there’s a very simple solution: If the name hurts people, why don’t they just change it?
It’s too bad that a second-grader wearing a shirt with a professional team’s logo on it has turned into a billboard screaming “I like a team with a blatantly racist name, and my parents are okay with that.”
But it has, and we’re not. So we are packing away the T-shirts and hats. The hats that her grandfather has worn during games for years (for luck!) and that were lovingly passed on to her and her brother. Yes, the name has always been awful. Now, though, the people to which the name refers are pleading for a change, and the ownership is steadfastly, and stubbornly, refusing to listen to reasonable arguments. Far more than 30 years ago, it feels like proudly sporting that logo is no better than thumbing your nose at those people and their feelings. Even when it’s a child wearing the shirt.
If the name were slandering another ethnic group, I wouldn’t dream of letting my kids wear the sportswear. And so it must go with this name. I can’t teach my kids tolerance and the importance of words while letting them run around in shirts with a slur on them. It’s pretty simple.
“Do I have to stop liking the team?” my daughter asked, quietly.
The answer: No. She can still like the players and the city and feel loyalty to her hometown team while wishing they would change the name, I told her. We just don’t want to walk around wearing the stuff, because that implies that we’re okay with the name, and we’re not.
She submitted that she would like to see the team change its name to a mythical creature.
Unicorns, anyone? I could get behind that.
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