A report released today indicates that a majority of NFL players support the current Washington Redskins nickname and do not think it should be changed. According to a poll taken over training camp and the offseason, 58 percent of players supported the name, including 26 of the 27 Redskins players who opted to answer. Many players interviewed expressed concern about our “overly PC” culture and felt that much hype was being made about a small social issue. Unfortunately, all this poll shows is that NFL players are trapped inside their own bubble. Regardless of players’ responses, the Redskins team name still needs to go.
While it’s important to understand the desires of players when it comes to big league changes, this particular issue has nothing to do with what the players want. A team name does not affect on-field play like a change in helmet-to-helmet contact rules or stricter quarterback protection measures. Regardless of what Washington football calls itself, players will be playing the same game. NFL players are very good at playing football — that’s why they get paid millions of dollars to do it. But their opinions on social issues shouldn’t dictate how the league responds to their social obligations.
New York Jets linebacker Jason Babin opposed a name change, arguing that “We live in a society that is way too concerned with the PC police.” Some unnamed players went so far as to say that it was a “positive name” and that it “helps keep them relevant.” These comments go to show how ill-equipped players are in understanding issues outside of the football field. This is not a knock on the players, as nowhere in their job description does it require them to be socially engaged. The real problem lies with the league and major sports news outlets using these polls as a way to legitimize the use of derogatory terms.
What makes matters worse is the lack of consistency with this issue. Remember last season when the NFL made headlines by attempting to curb the use of the N-word on the field and in locker rooms, despite ridicule from many players? The fact that we see such a disconnect between the use of that word and the use of less relevant but equally offensive Native American slur raises many concerns. Sure, the majority of Americans (71 percent according to a recent Langer’s Research Poll) and the majority of NFL players don’t mind the Redskins name, but that’s not surprising since only one percent of the country identifies as Native American.
However, as a society in the 21st century, social responsibilities exist regardless of the scale on which the apply. Respect and equality are constants and should not be ignored simply because the affected population is underrepresented. It’s not surprising that NFL players aren’t affected by the Redskins name, but it also doesn’t matter. If social equality moved forward at the rate that the majority of Americans wanted it to, we wouldn’t have seen much progress in the last 200 years. This is why the NFL needs to step in and do the right thing. If we can’t stand together and respect our Native American population at essentially zero cost to the rest of us, how far have we really come?
Jeremy Rucker is an NBA and NFL writer for Rant Sports. Follow him on Twitter @JeremyR327