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He needs to stop using the “R” word when referring to his favorite football team.
It’s no secret that Earnhardt Jr. is a lifelong supporter of Washington’s professional football team (as are many NASCAR fans) and is one of team’s most recognizable fans. He was on the sidelines for a pre-season game last week with his crew chief and girlfriend. He was interviewed on ESPN during the game to hype the Chase and he even called a touchdown during the radio broadcast.
He referred to the “’Skins” several times during the broadcast and identified the “Hail to the Redskins” team song following a touchdown. On Twitter before the Bristol race he wrote to his 752,000 followers about the upcoming “Skins” game, which touched off numerous tweets and retweets about the “Redskins” from his followers. The NASCAR media even got in on the act.
And that’s the problem. Many Native Americans – many Americans for that matter -- find the “Redskins” name and logo offensive and demeaning.
With the start of the professional football season a little more than a week away, the controversy surrounding the use of the “Redskins” name has reached new heights. It was touched off in part by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office cancelling the team’s trademark, saying federal law does not permit registration of trademarks that “may disparage” individuals or groups. Team owner Daniel Snyder says he’ll appeal the ruling, and the trademark remains in place while that’s underway.
But that hasn’t stopped a host of sports figures - including NFL announcers Tony Dungy and Phil Simms - from taking a stance that they will no longer use the word “Redskins” when referring to the Washington football team. Fifty Senators signed a letter to the NFL asking for a name change. When’s the last time 50 Senators agreed on anything? The Washington Post says it will no longer use the “slur” on its editorial pages.
Not everyone is in agreement, however. Former player and current broadcaster Mike Ditka was especially outspoken in defense of the nickname.
“What’s all the stink over the Redskin name?” he asked. “It’s so much horse shit it’s incredible. We’re going to let the liberals of the world run this world. It was said out of reverence, out of pride to the American Indian. Even though it was called a Redskin, what are you going to call them, a Brownskin? This is so stupid it’s appalling, and I hope that owner keeps fighting for it and never changes it, because the Redskins are part of American football history, and it should never be anything but the Washington Redskins. That’s the way it is.”
“It’s all the political correct idiots in America, that’s all it is.”
Ditka may have come on stronger than most, but he isn’t alone. Announcer Jim Nantz says he doesn’t want to take a stance. Troy Aikman says he will continue to use the term.
So why can’t Earnhardt Jr.?
Because, like it or not, Earnhardt Jr. is the most visible face of NASCAR. And despite NASCAR’s attempts to diversify, it is still a mostly southern, white, male sport. To have its most popular and recognizable driver using what many consider to be a racial slur on Twitter and national television is not in the best interest of the sport. Call it being politically correct if you want, but that’s the way it is. He’s also a leader and by simply not using the word, will help lead the movement away from it.
I’m not for a second saying Earnhardt Jr. or anyone else who uses the nickname is a racist. I understand and believe people when they say they use the word as a tribute and respect to heritage. But, to paraphrase the Washington Post, the meaning of words change. I would never call a Native American a “Redskin” to their face – and I don’t think Earnhardt Jr. would either. I’m saying many Native Americans now find the word insulting and that’s enough for me to try and stop using it. I hope it’s enough for Dale Jr. too.
He doesn’t need to make a big deal about it, doesn’t need to make any announcement, he just needs to stop using the word. He seems to use the slang ‘Skins when referring to the team and maybe that’s his way of trying to avoid the “Redskins” reference. But that’s not enough. Simply refer to the team as Washington in the future.
He can follow the lead of former NFL official Mike Carey, who asked the league to stop assigning him to Washington games back in 2006. Carey, the first African-America official to work a Super Bowl, never said a word about it until a reporter asked him directly last week. He responded with the most elegant words I’ve heard on the subject.
“Everybody has to look inside themselves and decide what is the right thing for them,” Carey told the Washington Post.
“In America, we’ve learned that respect is the most important thing that you have. I learned it from my parents, my schools, from my faith. And when you learn there’s something that might not be as respectful as you like, when you come to terms with it, you have to do something about it.
“It just became clear to me that to be in the middle of the field, where something disrespectful is happening (the team logo), was probably not the best thing for me.
“Human beings take social stances,” he said. “And if you’re respectful of all human beings, you have to decide what you’re going to do and why you’re going to do it.”
It’s time for Earnhardt Jr. to take a stance.