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Taking a stand against Washington football team's offensive Redskins name

The NFL team's nickname is offensive, says John Smallwood, so he no longer will use it.

(Nick Wass/AP file photo)
(Nick Wass/AP file photo)Read more

THE LATE POP STAR Michael Jackson sang to us to look at "The Man in the Mirror." The song of the same title told us that if we wanted to make the world a better place, "take a look at look at yourself and then make a change."

I'm making a change. It's not earth-shattering. It probably won't make much difference to a lot of people other than me.

But it's something I can do. It's something that I chose to do.

After 48-plus years of life, 25 years as a full-time sports reporter, 20 years at the Daily News and nearly 19 years as a sports columnist here, I no longer will consciously used the official name of the NFL team in Washington.

Instead of the official nickname, I will refer to the team as Washington, Washington's football team, the 'Skins, the R's or some other reference.

It won't be hard, but it could potentially make life on deadline a bit more troublesome for the copy editors if higher-ups don't agree with my stance and decide it is not my place to make personal policy a part of the newspaper.

Still, I won't write it.

If you see that name in one of my columns from now on, it will because a copy editor unknowingly changed it to that or I slipped up and made a mistake after using the name hundreds of thousands of times.

I'd like to say this was an original thought, but it was not.

I'm following the example of sports writer Tim Graham, of the Buffalo News, who explained this week why he would no longer use the term.

"For any sports fan, the word simply falls from the lips without thought," Graham wrote.

"And that's the problem with uttering a racial slur so cavalierly over the years: We don't think about the R-word's meaning anymore.

"We must not take for granted anything so harmful to other people."

The more I read, the more I was reminded that my thinking was the same as his.

I know that the "R-Word" is just as a derogatory, debasing and offensive slur toward Native Americans as the "N-Word" is toward African-Americans.

Merriam-Webster's notes both words are offensive. It is a slur, intended to hurt and display hostility and anger. We know this.

Just because Washington owner Daniel Snyder and NFL commissioner have defended the name-calling its use with the NFL team as a positive that stands for strength, courage, pride and respect doesn't change what it is.

Their explanation is so comical, it's hard to believe Goodell actually had the audacity to use it as a response to a push by 10 members of Congress to get Snyder to change the name because it is offensive to Native Americans.

"The Washington [R-word] name has thus from its origin represented a positive meaning distinct from any disparagement that could be viewed in some other context," Goodell wrote in a letter to the members of Congress. "For the team's millions of fans and customers, who represent one of America's most ethically and geographically diverse fan bases, the name is a unifying force that stands for strength, courage, pride and respect."

Goodell is full of it. He's making a "some of my best friends are black" argument to try to hide his true agenda of protecting the brand of one of the league's most financially valuable franchises.

I grew up in the suburbs between Washington and Baltimore. The fan base is no more ethnically diverse that of Philadelphia, New York, Dallas, Boston, Denver, Miami, Oakland, Kansas City, Indianapolis, Houston or any NFL city.

The percentage differences among ethnic groups might vary, but all are diverse.

"From its origins"?

Did Goodell forget the Washington team's name originated from George Preston Marshall who changed the name from the Boston Braves to the Boston R's when he gained sole ownership in 1933?

Outside of the fact that he was a Baltimore Colts fan, my father always told me he despised the Washington team because Marshall was one of the most notorious racists in sports.

While other NFL teams began signing African-American players in 1946 and drafting them in 1949, Marshall refused to sign an African-American until 1962.

He didn't exactly have a moment of enlightenment.

It took a threat from Interior Secretary Stewart Udall and Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy to revoke the lease on the brand-new D.C. Stadium to get Marshall to relent and sign an African-American player.

Marshall broke his personal color line by drafting Ernie Davis, the Heisman Trophy winner out of Syracuse University No. 1 overall in '62, but Davis demanded a trade saying, "I won't play for the S.O.B."

Marshall finally integrated his team by trading Davis to the Cleveland Browns for Bobby Mitchell.

Goodell should be careful about using "respect" while defending the origin of Marshall's nickname.

For a few hundred years before Marshall selected it, the R-Word had been used almost exclusively as a slur. It's not hard to extrapolate that Marshall didn't care that it was racist and offensive.

In practical use, the R-Word is no different from calling an African-American the N-Word, a Jewish person the K-Word, a Hispanic the W-Word, an Irish-American the M-Word, or an Italian American a different W-word.

All are meant to insult, dehumanize and offend. Using them is a display of hatred. Yet, the R-Word is the only one that we dare celebrate in sports as a profit-making enterprise.

The NFL won't put any pressure on Snyder as long as the nickname and logo are huge moneymakers.

Still, by joining Graham in refusing to use the name then that's one fewer tiny piece of promotion the slur won't get.

Of course, I would like other sports journalists to do the same. News organization across the country refusing to use the slur would be bring more attention to how offensive it is. I'd like people to stop buying merchandise with the Washington team's nickname or logo, because a drastic dip in merchandise revenue would be the only thing to get Snyder and the league to reverse their stances.

But it's not up to me to determine what others will do. All I could do was look at the person in my mirror and tell him to change.