Howard Bryant, the portentously leftist, constantly aggrieved “Truth” columnist for ESPN The Magazine, went on a rant on the back page of the December 4 edition of the biweekly, blasting supposedly “offensive” team nicknames, especially pro baseball’s Cleveland Indians and pro football’s Washington Redskins, in “How Is This Still a Debate?” It hasn’t been much of one lately, though the liberal press still strives mightily to make it so.
Thirteen months ago, before Game 2 of the World Series, baseball commissioner Rob Manfred shared a podium with Hall of Famer Henry Aaron and retiring Red Sox titan David Ortiz. Manfred was asked how, with the world watching baseball's marquee event, the league could still abide the Indians' using Chief Wahoo as a mascot. Manfred fidgeted, annoyed by the presence of a fastball where there were supposed to be only softballs. He insisted there was no place for racism in baseball and, attempting to douse the issue, said he and Cleveland Indians owner Paul Dolan would revisit the issue in the offseason.
A year later, Manfred suspended Astros first baseman Yuli Gurriel for making a racist gesture at Yu Darvish during the World Series -- yet has left intact the smiling stereotype of Chief Wahoo. Players are so much easier to punish.
While plates and bellies are loaded with turkey and stuffing this year, the Washington Redskins will, for the first time and quite controversially, host a game on Thanksgiving. Some eyes will roll at the suggestion that sports is humiliating a people, but neither fatigue nor cynicism can undo a central fact: There is plenty of room for racism in American sports. All the eye rolls in the world won't change that.
Bryant made an accusation of Astroturfing:
The customer is always right, but only if you're the seller. If you're not, it is obvious that the fan acts from selfishness. This is their entertainment, and the racist logos and offensive names are a nostalgic part of their memories and experience, and they aren't willing to give them up. Washington owner Daniel Snyder knows this, which is why he has spent his time and money bankrolling studies and Native American leaders who agree with him, to use them as cover instead of using common sense.
Bryant had to skip some inconvenient facts to get to his conclusions, like the Washington Post poll showing that the vast majority of Native Americans aren’t offended by the Washington Redskins name. The columnist went beyond his usual discomfort regarding police singing the National Anthem in football stadiums, to condemn capitalism in the pages of a slick magazine put out by ESPN, a multi-billion dollar brand (though maybe not as many billions as a decade ago, given the network's recent woes).
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“You cannot have capitalism without racism,” Malcolm X once said. His statement was directed toward the class warfare that lies at the root of capitalism, and it applies even to the blankets, foam fingers, jerseys, caps and T-shirts the sports teams sell, even on a day ostensibly dedicated to a giving of thanks and peace between settlers and natives. The hypocrisy is disgusting.
In classic misdirection, the Boston Celtics are often used as a false equivalent in this ersatz debate -- a team name harmlessly based on an ethnicity. But people freely use the word "Celtic" in common speech without offense. Consider this while passing the cranberry sauce: Outside of discussing the Washington football team, who in mixed company comfortably and routinely uses the word "Redskins"?
Enough. We all know better.
Again, Bryant leaves out facts that would weaken his argument, like Notre Dame's nickname of "The Fighting Irish," a stereotype not routinely used for anyone but the Irish.