"Think for a moment about the term 'Redskins,'" NBC Sports commentator Bob Costas exhorted viewers in his halftime tirade during Sunday's Cowboys-Redskins game. "Ask yourself what the equivalent would be, if directed [at] African Americans, Hispanics, Asians, or members of any other ethnic group. When considered that way, 'Redskins' can't possibly honor a heritage or a noble character trait, nor can it possibly be considered a neutral term.
"It is an insult, a slur, no matter how benign the present-day intent," Costas continued.
This is ludicrous. I say this not as someone who has particular love for the Redskins or its name. I say this as a lover of words.
Words are magical things, routinely defying the sort of logic-chopping on display in Costas' tirade. Their euphony can be a siren calling us to dangerous shores. Logophillic pundit William Safire, an unreconstructed paronomasiac, could be so seduced by clever puns, he often crashed whole columns into them. My former boss, William F. Buckley, was often in the dock on charges of aggravated sesquipedalianism, to which he always pleaded nolo contendere, informing the court of public opinion: "I am Lapidary But Not Eristic When I Use Big Words."
But neither big words nor big wordplay are the issues in the largely eristic tussle over the Redskins. This debate is about bad words.
Slate magazine recently announced it would no longer refer to the Redskins by name. "Changing how you talk changes how you think," editor David Plotz explained. "... If Slate can do a small part to change the way people talk about the team, that will be enough."
"In public discourse," Plotz adds, "we no longer talk about groups based on their physical traits: No one would ever refer to Asians as yellow-skinned."
I hope Slate will be similarly brave about refusing to use the "C" in NAACP.
After all, the "Colored" in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People refers to skin color, too. And if I described the president of the NAA[initial redacted]P as "colored," I'd be in huge trouble.
Redskins lawyer Lanny Davis insists the team's 80-year-old name should be grandfathered in, even though he concedes that someone might be offended. Time's Sean Gregory sarcastically responds: "So we have to be sensitive to the one offended person, but can't change the name, because it's been around for a long time. Sorry, offended person. We love the name too much, for too long."
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