Knowing full well that there is no such thing as a “gay marriage ban”— that gays may marry any time they wish, anywhere they wish, the only question being official government recognition— they continue to punish those exercising the right to disagree.
Voters may elevate the status of gay unions in any state they please. Traditionalists may wince at this, but when people are exercising their rights, the proper reaction is— here it comes again— tolerance. Likewise, in the states choosing to maintain unique legal recognition of man-woman unions, gay rights activists disillusioned at the setback have a responsibility to display what they have demanded from others— say it with me— tolerance.
Judges should never impose their activist will over the wishes of the people on this issue. Something does not become a right simply because a number of people are vocal about it.
(I apply this hard truth to myself. It makes me insane when cities tell restaurants and bars what their smoking rules must be, but I must acknowledge that government may do it. If I don’t like it, I should fight from city hall to city hall, not assert some phony right that I wished existed but does not.)
In the absurdity of the Redskins name drama, we do not even have a large outcry. A very small slice of Native American activism, partnered with a bandwagon of opportunistic politicians has joined forces in the guise of a wide outcry for the team to change the name that has delighted its fans for 80 years.
An AP poll last year found the percentage of respondents wanting a name change: 11 percent.
I grew up in suburban Washington. Long afternoons of my youth were spent at RFK Stadium, home of the team from 1961 to 1996. Part of the soundtrack of my childhood is the sound of 57,000 fans singing at the top of their lungs, “Hail to the Redskins/ Hail victory/ Braves on the Warpath/ Fight for Old D.C!”, as the Redskins Band, made up primarily of scores of middle-aged black and white people, marched from end zone to end zone wearing headdresses.
Were these people engaged in some kind of mass derision of Native American culture? Was the name chosen as an intentional epithet?
Assertions of this type stretch the definition of stupidity. Who names a team after something negative? From ethnic imagery like Vikings to occupational imagery like Steelers and Packers, names are chosen because they convey a desirable trait. From the Kansas City Chiefs to the Atlanta Braves to specific tribal choices like the Florida State Seminoles, the focus is on tradition, fleetness of foot, ferocity in battle.
Yet there are those who suggest with a straight face that “Redskins” carries the same wounding power as the N-word. This grotesque, insulting lie diminishes anyone foolish enough to utter it.
The “R-word” is invisible today, except for its description of Washington’s football team. There are no tales of Cherokee or Sioux men and women stung by the “R-bomb” as they go about their daily existence.
It is possible to visit Westerns of eons past, to find scripts that contain lines referring to the occasional “dirty Redskin.” But the sting there is the adjective, a modifier linked to a neutral noun. “Dirty Mexican” sounds racist because of the insulting adjective, not because there is something wrong with “Mexican.”
Countless references have been made over the years to “Dirty Yankees” across the South. Does that mean New York’s American League team should change its name?
To anyone taking sincere offense at “Redskins,” despite its flimsy basis, the answer once again is tolerance. Since no slight is intended, and no modern context exists for the actual use of the word in a hurtful way, it is the job of these aggrieved souls to realize that they are a fraction of a fringe, or worse, part of a noxious PC wave that seeks to silence anything that ruffles its feathers.
Anyone wishing to be offended may be offended. They may be vocal about that offense. They may try to foment enough umbrage to create a real marketplace stigma— lost ticket sales and merchandise revenue— that may indeed lead to a name change on principled grounds.
But knowing that will not happen, the objectors dip into the arsenal of the tolerance stormtroopers, seeking to bludgeon those who do not join their small cries of vexation.
The unfortunate result: Just as demands for marriage equality in unwilling states breeds ill will toward gay rights efforts, the Redskins name tantrum is an obstacle to any efforts Native Americans might take to alert us to grievances that might actually hold more weight.
Remember: tolerance is good. Gays, Native Americans and groups of various delineations are on principled ground when they seek it in good faith. But sometimes, when they do not get what they want, thwarted by a state’s right to define marriage or a football team’s right to its name, they must not just ask for tolerance— they must practice it.