“I think that’s a discussion for another time,” he said.
Rivera may have famously skipped the “Super Bowl Shuffle” performance with his Chicago Bears teammates 35 years ago, but now you know he can dance.
In reaction to his diffidence on this issue, let me make one thing clear:
I’ve been there.
And I’m just rising out of that modest, hypocritical place today.
In my column, I hadn’t taken a strong stance on the name mostly because I didn’t want that to define my entrance into this market five years ago. There was a credibility I wanted to establish with readers that is similar to Rivera wanting, at least, to figure out his depth chart before taking on such a complicated and divisive matter.
There are plenty of things to criticize in what Rivera actually said, particularly his sentiment that “I’m just somebody that’s from a different era when football wasn’t such a big part of the political scene.” The trickiness of politics isn’t the problem. The furtive nature of racism is.
On a fundamental level, it’s reasonable for the coach to feel unqualified to go there right now. The excuses come easily: It’s not my issue. It’s too complicated. What about the 2016 Washington Post poll that said nine in 10 Native Americans are not offended by the name? I’ll wait until I can really sink my teeth into it.
The next thing you know, five years have passed. And the best I have done is try to limit usage of the name after the first reference in my columns.
Now we are in this moment, with police brutality against African Americans and systemic racism causing an uproar and, if you’re smart and caring, an awakening. This period has been hard, emotional, awkward. It has been beautiful, too. Yet for all the passion and hope that are building, the enormity of these problems can be overwhelming.
There’s always more to fix. For as encouraging as it is to sense hearts changing about Black Lives Matter, the need for more of a racial reckoning keeps growing. As long-silent white people declare themselves allies, the common initial black reaction is, “Oh, so you’ve finally decided to help us!” But when it comes to the Washington football team having a slur in its name, I have been akin to that white person who makes compassion seem like an enormous chore.
No more. Rivera needs time, not to mention job security. I’m just late. But the point isn’t to echo the prose and mental energy several of my colleagues have put into this issue. I’m speaking mostly to the indifferent, the lazy and the fence-sitters.
This moment in America calls us to think about the things we usually ignore because that’s where racism often settles. We must examine traditions and symbols and monuments because those things numb our minds. We must scrutinize who and what we want to honor. We must ditch who and what we don’t want to honor.
During this moment, the logic for team owner Daniel Snyder to maintain the status quo looks thinner than ever. The man who once told USA Today he would “NEVER — you can use caps” change the team’s name now faces another round of backlash and pressure. More than 85 investment firms and shareholders sent letters to FedEx, Nike and PepsiCo asking the businesses to end their relationships with the football franchise unless it gets rid of the dictionary-defined slur attached to its name. FedEx responded Thursday with a request for the team to change the name. Nike appeared to remove all of the team’s apparel from its website. In addition, several political leaders made it clear Wednesday that Snyder, who wants a new stadium badly, cannot negotiate a deal to build in the District without a franchise rebranding.
“There is no viable path, locally or federally, for the Washington football team to return to Washington, D.C., without first changing the team name,” D.C. Deputy Mayor John Falcicchio said.
Snyder redefines stubbornness. He is more likely to paint “Black Lives Matter” on his yacht than to change the name. He despises being told what to do. But can he be squeezed financially? Do more of Washington’s most loyal sponsors even have the nerve?
The name is as complicated as you want it to be. It’s such an old slur, one that was appropriated into the mainstream. You don’t hear stories of Native Americans being called that name like you hear about people using the n-word. Ninety-nine percent of the time, when the r-word is referenced, your first thoughts are: “How did they lose? And what dysfunctional thing did they do?”
It’s fine, I suppose, to argue that words can evolve and that the intention is to honor indigenous people who have been tragically pushed to the margins. No malice, no big deal, huh? But such logic should feel shameful and unsatisfactory. If honoring a group of human beings is the inspiration, can’t the franchise do better than continuing to use a onetime slur that slithered back into the lexicon and found a way to disguise itself as inoffensive? Is recycled racism worth preserving?
It gets more absurd and contradictory when you consider that the memory of George Preston Marshall, the franchise founder and abhorrent segregationist, the last NFL owner to integrate his team, is being obliterated. Events DC removed his statue outside RFK Stadium two weeks ago. Then the team erased his name from its Ring of Fame and announced Marshall also would be eliminated from the history wall at the practice facility.
Yet there is a Marshall relic that remains: the team, formerly the Boston Braves, he renamed in 1933.
Marshall is dead, no longer immortalized. Still, his name for the franchise lives on, in polarity, a name that can evoke the memory of bounty hunters collecting Indian scalps.
I am humbled by my own negligence and hypocrisy. Five years ago, I just didn’t want to walk inside a house and start critiquing the decor. On this issue, I wanted to observe and learn. And then I found reason to stray and not come back to it.
But this discussion, like so many others, cannot be saved for another time. It’s more urgent than it has ever been. If Snyder doesn’t make a change in this moment, the name is here to stay, and the racist stench of Marshall never dissipates. In the middle of a national reckoning, what a waste that would be.