Redskins: More Than a Name

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    I was once told that the only bad thing about being a good sport is that you have to lose to prove it. So it is with democracy; you have to have the freedom to disagree to prove that it works.

    This brings me to the issue of the Washington Redskins. They are one of the oldest teams in the National Football League (NFL). Lately, they have come under unrelenting pressure from certain quarters to change their storied name from the Redskins. Some are suggesting that the name is offensive to Native American. The Oneida Indian tribe has been at the forefront of this controversy.

    They have been making the argument that the name Redskins is racist and insulting to Native Americans. One thing I have learned in life is not to argue with a person’s feelings. Feelings are not always logical nor are they always based on facts. Feelings have everything to do with emotion.

    Your wife may say to you that she doesn’t “feel” like you love her, despite the fact that you provide for the family, you spend weekends together, you travel to exotic places, and you have a nice home, etc.  Her “feelings” fly in the face of all the available facts.  But, since her feelings are based on emotion, not facts, it’s difficult to have a reasoned conversation about how to correct what she “feels.”

    So it is with the name Washington Redskins.  Who am I to tell the Oneida Indian Tribe that they are wrong?  I am not Native American, so I can’t pretend to totally understand their feelings and reaction to the word “Redskins.”

    But, I also can’t overlook the fact that no other Indian tribe has been so vexed by the name. Why are there no other tribes joining the Oneida in this cause?  Could it be because there is a difference of opinion on this issue even within the Native American community?  Why has the media not delved into this issue?  Out of the more the 300 federally-recognized tribes, only one seems to want to deny Dan Synder, owner of the Redskins, his right to call his team by whatever name he chooses.

    This whole controversy is not about a name that some view as racially insensitive; but rather is about democracy and freedom.  If you are repulsed by the use of the name Redskins, then don’t watch the team play or buy any of their merchandise.

    In a democracy, you have freedom of choice, not freedom from choice. Not making a choice is a choice in itself.  If the Redskins were the recipient of government money, then the Oneida’s argument would have standing, but they are a privately held corporation and have the right to call themselves anything they choose.

    In a democracy, the free market determines the success or failure of the private sector.  If enough people are offended by the name used, they will voice that concern with their dollars.  The Redskins are one of the top five valued sports teams in all of pro sports (estimated to be worth more than $1 billion).

    Even if some disagree with the use of the name Redskins, does that make Synder a bad person, or a racist, or insensitive?  Of course, not.  It simply means he disagrees with those that oppose his team’s name.  Nothing more.

    Why should he have to prove that he is not a racist?  This thinking goes like this: Dan, if you are not a racist, you can prove it by changing the team’s name; and if you don’t, then you must be a racist.  In forensics, this is called a non sequitur.

    There is absolutely no evidence of Synder having a racist past.  We must stop trying to demonize a person simple because you have a disagreement. Dan Synder has been a very successful businessman and a very good corporate criticize in the D.C. metro area.

    Some would argue that I would feel differently if the team’s name was the Washington N-word.  I would not. Simply because I disagree with something doesn’t make it wrong or illegal. I wouldn’t be present at any of its games.

    Let’s assume for a minute that Synder was willing to change the team’s name. Who is going to make him whole again?  Since my undergraduate degree is in accounting, let me draw upon that experience. In accounting, the name Washington Redkskins is considered an intangible asset called “goodwill.”  It’s a depreciable asset.  Coca-Cola, Pepsi, or McDonalds are other examples.  These names are worth hundreds of millions of dollars to a corporate brand.

    It would take Synder decades to rebuild the new name into a brand.  Is the Oneida Tribe willing to reimburse him the hundreds of millions of dollars he would lose?  I can assure you the answer will be no.

    Synder is obligated, both legally and ethically, to maximize value for his investors.  So this issue isn’t simply just about a name change; there are a whole series of repercussions were he to change the name.

    So, to the Oneida Nation, advocate your position forcefully, but don’t demonize Dan Synder for making a decision that is in the best interest of his business and his investors.

    Raynard Jackson is president & CEO of Raynard Jackson & Associates, LLC., a Washington, D.C.-based public relations/government affairs firm. He can be reached through his Web site,  www.raynardjackson.com. You can also follow him on Twitter at raynard1223.

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