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League contends Washington name “not a slur”


Commissioner Roger Goodell has periodically tiptoed around the question of whether the Washington franchise owned by Daniel Snyder should change its name, never conceding there’s a serious problem with the name but never providing a definitive statement that the name is acceptable.

One of Goodell’s lieutenants provided something definitive on Friday.

The team name is not a slur,” NFL V.P. of labor policy and government affairs Adolpho Birch said in a phone appearance on ESPN’s Outside the Lines.

“The team name is the team name as it has been for 80-plus years,” Birch said. “And what we need to do is get beyond sort of understanding this as a point-blank situation and understand it more as a variety of perspectives that all need to be addressed, that all need to be given some weight, so that at the end of it we can come to some understanding that is appropriate and reflects the opinions of all.”

That sounds good, but it’s impossible to reflect the opinions of those who think it’s a slur while also keeping the name. There’s no middle ground. Those who believe it’s a slur want it to change. Those who don’t believe it’s a slur want to keep it. And the ongoing controversy is causing the ranks of the undecideds to shrink.

“I think that is part of the issue with the question is that it is constantly being sort of put into a point-blank, yes-or-no, yes-or-no kind of context when that’s not the reality of the situation that we’re dealing with,” Birch said.

He’s right, but only because the NFL and the team have decided to ignore those who say “yes” to the slur question. In fairness, the league and the team aren’t completely ignoring those folks. The league and the team will listen. And understand. And respect the opinions and perspectives.

And then keep the name.

The issue will continue to be a “point-blank, yes-or-no, yes-or-no kind of context” until the league and the team say “yes” to a name change. Through the remarks Goodell has made over the past two years, the NFL necessarily has acknowledged that reasonable minds can differ on the question of whether the name is a slur. The question for the league is whether it’s comfortable having a team carry a name that has become the focal point of a reasonable dispute as to whether that name is a slur.

Birch’s comments suggest that the answer is yes, but that the league would be far more comfortable if everyone would please quit treating the “point-blank, yes-or-no” question of whether the name is a slur like the “point-blank, yes-or-no” question it inherently is.

And so the league will continue taking the position that it’s not an intentional slur and the team will continue to stubbornly try to convince people that it’s not an unintentional slur, either. And it all will continue until something breaks the logjam.