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Washington Redskins No More?

Washington Redskins No More?

Until recently, the Jewish athlete had to clear an extra hurdle in the battle to the big time. Not only did the athlete have to be good enough to get to the big leagues, he had to prove a Jewish athlete belonged in the big leagues. He had to beat his opponent and the anti-Semites.

Clearly Dan Snyder, the Jewish owner of the NFL’s Washington Redskins, has forgotten that it is not only Jews who fight this battle. Snyder’s refusal to change the racist moniker attached to his team is reprehensible. It is the sign of a man who refuses to recall the sacrifices of his ancestors – those who fought anti-Semitism as well as those Jews who stood beside peoples of other races as they fought for their rights.

The sporting history of Jews mirrors that of other minorities. Until World War II, boxing was dominated by Jews (and the Irish) as we battled our way out of the ghettos. This Wiki entry lists 84 noteworthy Jewish boxers.

In the early days of the NBA, basketball was seen as a uniquely Jewish sport. The teams were often tagged in the press with distinctly anti-Semitic nicknames. In the mid-1930s, New York Daily News sports editor Paul Gallico wrote that basketball "appeals to the Hebrew with his Oriental background because the game places a premium on an alert, scheming mind and flashy trickiness, artful dodging and general smartalecness." Gallico, speaking to the tenor of the times, thought of this as a “tribute” to our people. 

Tennis great Dick Savitt, the first Jewish athlete to grace the cover of Time magazine, retired from the sport when anti-Semitic Davis Cup coach Frank Shields barred him from the 1951 Davis Cup team because he was a Jew.

My Dad’s a Philly guy, was born in 1931. He’s a lifelong caddy, golfer, and fan. While we were watching this year’s US Open, played in Ardmore, PA, at the Merion Golf Club, he told me of the sign, in his youth, on the men’s locker room door at Merion: “No Jews Allowed.” Of course, the restricted club in his post-war era was common, but it was usually by a "Gentlemen's Agreement."

Against this cultural and sports background, Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder’s insistence on retaining the racist nickname for his NFL team is completely repellent. Snyder, an observant and otherwise charitable man, continues to insist that his team be called by the racist term “redskin,” despite the fact that most Native-Americans feel the same way about the pejorative “redskin” as Snyder should about words like “heeb,” “kike” and “sheeny” – words it pains me to write, words we never say.

Said Snyder to USA Today, “We’ll never change the name. It’s that simple. NEVER – you can use caps.”

Snyder even convinced Commissioner Roger Goodell (son of liberal New York Republican legislator Charles Goodell) to come out in favor of the name as it is, as recently reported in USA Today: “a unifying force that stands for strength, courage, pride and respect."

Rep. Betty McCollum, co-chair of the Congressional Native American Caucus, called Goodell's defense of the name "twisted logic" and "a statement of absurdity."

The adjective “redskin” is hateful. It is the Native American equivalent of the n-word.

Dan Snyder, are you willing to stand on the corner of Saginaw Street and Pierson Road in Flint, MI, one of the deadliest regions in the US, and shout out the n-word at the top of your lungs?

Mr. Snyder, fly your private jet to the Pine Ridge reservation. Are you willing to get in your limo, roll down the window and drive around for a bit whilst you shout out, “Hey, redskins!”?  

Mr. Snyder, are you willing to invite Amanda Blackhorse to a meeting and call her a redskin to her face?

Mr. Snyder, it’s time to do the right thing. For the NFL, for sports, for Native American and Jewish sports fans, and for fans of all backgrounds who find your stance so abhorrent:  Change the name.

For more commentary on this topic, watch what ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith and Skip Bayless have to say and what Ashley Fox,’s NFL columnist, has written about Dan Snyder and this controversy

What’s your take? Why won’t Snyder do the right thing? Tradition, money, stubbornness? Is this made any more heinous by the fact that Snyder is Jewish?  Leave a comment to participate in the discussion.

David Stanley is a member of Temple Beth El in Flint, MI. He is a teacher, athlete, coach, and cancer survivor blogging about education, cancer, sport, society at DStan58-Rants & Mutters .

Published: 7/01/2013

Categories: Jewish Life, Arts & Culture
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