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Costas elaborates on his position regarding Redskins name


The polarizing debate regarding the Redskins name has caused many on either side of the issue to dig in, to ignore any reasonable explanations of the contrary view, and to throw rocks at those who try to reasonably explain the contrary view.

Bob Costas of NBC continues to have rocks thrown at him by those who disagree with his belief that the Redskins name reasonably can be viewed as offensive. On Thursday, Costas appeared with Andy Pollin and Jon Saraceno on SportsTalk 570’s The Sports Reporters, and Costas explained the reaction to his October 13 essay.

Dan Steinberg of the Washington Post has transcribed some of the quotes; we encourage reading the whole thing and/or listening to the interview.

For now, here are some of the key points.

First, Costas addressed the timing of the issue, since one of the primary arguments raised by supporters of the name is “why now?”

“Well, the Oneida Nation has registered some protests,” Costas said. “They’ve asked to meet with league officials. Somebody asked President Obama about it. He didn’t mention it gratuitously -- he answered the question, he didn’t bring the subject up himself. When the President addresses it, then it brings additional attention to it. There have been some columns written of late. So as I said, the issue bubbled to the surface.”

Second, Costas addressed the commonly raised question regarding the failure of those raising questions about the term now to be offended about it in the past.

“I’ve actually tried -- without saying anything to anybody -- over the last several years, I’ve tried to avoid saying Redskins, because I just felt uncomfortable with it. I know that I’ve slipped a few times,” Costas. “But by and large, I’ve tried to avoid it.”

He’s telling the truth (and we’re compelled to point that out because some supporters of the name would simply say he’s not and ignore him). Earlier this year, we explored the possibility of dropping the name altogether at PFT, and through the process of kicking the matter around internally, we learned that Costas has been avoiding the name without announcement or fanfare over the last several years.

Third, Costas lamented the fact that anyone who questions the name is dubbed a left-leaning political ideologue.

"[A] good portion of people who have commented on this think I’m some sort of doctrinaire liberal left-wing guy, which people who know me would be very surprised to hear,” Costas said. “So that sort of thing is discouraging. Not to me personally, but the way the discourse in the country is now, there’s less of a chance to have a nuanced conversation about the issues.”

Fourth, Costas summarized the crux of his concerns.

“I refer you to the dictionary,” Costas said. “I consulted five. All five dictionaries I consulted define Redskins as pejorative, derogatory, insulting, offensive. Those were the four words used. None of those words -- NONE -- are part of any definition of Braves or Chiefs or any other team name associated with Native Americans. Now, sometimes, inappropriate symbols or inappropriate rituals can offend people when a team is known as Braves, Chiefs, Chippewas, whatever. But by definition, those names alone are not offensive. There’s no reason to change those names. You might want to reconsider some of the logos or some of the other things, but the names themselves are not offensive. The name Redskins, by definition, is.”

Still, anyone who points that out is a left-wing nut job who wants to systematically eradicate all Native American names and logos from American sports -- and then move on to other human-based nicknames, followed by animals. Then plants. Then minerals. Then weather patterns. Then days of the week. Then months of the year.

That’s one of the go-to tactics for those who prefer to cover their ears and cry “la-la-la-not-listening” when someone like Costas is making cogent, reasonable, persuasive arguments against the ongoing use of the name “Redskins.” They oppose reasonable efforts to make changes by citing unreasonable fears regarding where change will lead.

Perhaps those who support the name realize that acknowledging the existence of cogent, reasonable, and persuasive arguments against the use of the name necessarily becomes a major step on the path toward admitting that the name should be changed. Other than mental illness, that can be the only reason for a strategy that consists of stubbornly sticking to a position and shouting down anyone who would even try to explain the other side of it.