Amid the fallout over blogger Ben Tribbett's brief employment by the Washington Redskins, a strange aside kept cropping up in news coverage. See if you can spot it in this sentence from a USA Today article:
Tribbett, 34, got his start in Democratic Virginia politics on a 2001 House of Delegates campaign for Chap Petersen, now a Virginia state senator who recently helped found a “Redskins Pride” caucus of Virginia legislators.
"Redskins Pride" caucus? Our reaction was much like that of the Washington Post, which ran an article titled:
The article gives Peterson's answer to the question, quoting from a radio interview:
"I grew up in this community, and I grew up as a huge Redskins fan. I’ve been a season-ticket holder since 1999. I believe in the team, I believe in what it represents in our community. I look at the Redskins logo as a symbol of unity in our community. … I believe in the unity that the team represents. I’ll put that unity up and that diversity up against any of these so-called groups that are attacking us for being not diverse or racist or whatever. I mean, give me a break. And the bottom line is we’re just here to support the fans and give the fans a voice, because I felt like they didn’t have a voice."
The pretend question of "who will speak for the fans?" is essentially the same reason Tribbett gave for his (ultimately short-lived) involvement with the team. And we'll say it again: Everybody knows the fans overwhelmingly want to keep the name. The issue is not how many people like the name and how many don't. The issue is whether this word is a harmful racial slur toward the 1-2% of the U.S. population who identify as Native. Simple majority rule does not apply.
(Hey, a lot — probably a majority — of white people had no problem with the terms "colored" and "negro." That didn't make them acceptable to use when a significant number of African Americans voiced their objection.)
Peterson's implication that the "unity" that the team engenders is so heavily dependent upon the name ought also to be questioned. He and his fellow season ticket holders go to Washington Redskins games — and not, say, San Francisco 49ers games — because they live in and around Washington, DC. If the Redskins were suddenly not the Redskins — but still had the same coaches, players, stadium and team colors — would this highly united and diverse community of fans shrug their shoulders and start rooting for the Ravens? That seems to be a very flimsy sort of united community.
Peterson goes on to use a questionable historical reference while making his larger point that Redskins supporters are a silent and persecuted majority:
"I called a lot of people that are Redskins fans and season ticket holders that were Democrats, that were like ‘Hey man, ride on General Custer,’ … They’re kind of like ‘Hey, I agree with you, I think you’re correct, I’m glad you’re doing this, but I can’t be there.’ And I think a lot of people, when there’s an issue like this and they feel like ‘Oh my gosh, somebody raised the race card or played the race card, I’m gonna head for the exits.'"
So… that, apparently, is why there is a "Redskins Pride" caucus. To bring people together to defend a football team's racist name in a civil, bipartisan, and totally non-racist way.