NFL Should Take a Page From NBA’s Book on Racism

Kevin Johnson addresses the media on the steps of L.A.City Hall

There’s been a lot to digest over the last week or so in regards to Los Angeles Clippers Donald Sterling’s racist remarks. The jarring content of his words came first; although those that know him best would probably tell you they weren’t shocked. Then came the outrage and outcry from the media and the country in general. NBA players quickly followed suit making their collective feelings clear. Then on Tuesday newly minted NBA Commissioner Adam Silver put a stamp on his regime by bringing down a swift and heavy hammer, banning Sterling from the Clippers and the NBA for life, fining him the maximum $2.5 million allowed by NBA bylaws, and announcing a vote of the owners will soon take place to force Sterling to sell his franchise. On top of all this it was discovered that the players, not just Clipper players but all NBA players still competing in the playoffs, were going to boycott the games if they weren’t satisfied with Silver’s actions. Major corporate sponsors including State Farm, Carmax, Corona, Kia, Red Bull, Sprint, Samsung and Yokohama Tire all swiftly canceled or suspended their relationship with the Clippers as well.

Former NBA player and current mayor of Sacramento Kevin Johnson, serving as a spokesperson and advocate for the players union, was joined by the mayor of Los Angeles and several current and former NBA stars including Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Steve Nash on the steps of L.A. City Hall after the Commissioner made his ruling public, calling it a “historic” day. “I hope every bigot in this country saw what happened to Mr. Sterling,” Johnson said. “When you have institutional racism, when you hear those audiotapes, you just can’t believe that it’s 2014. This was personal,” he added, “this was so personal for me.”

The message in all this? Racism and bigotry will not be tolerated – in sports and in this country in general – and woe to anyone who crosses that line. Bravo to all those involved in letting Mr. Sterling know what he said is not acceptable, and kudos to Silver and the NBA for their reaction. But in reality, you know what Donald Sterling’s singular major misstep in this entire nasty fiasco really was (besides thinking a he could trust a young gold digger with his private thoughts)? The one thing that made this entire hate-filled drama blow up in his wrinkled face? He simply aimed his prejudice toward the wrong group of American minorities. He offended African Americans when he could have played it safe and put Native Americans in his cross-hairs.

You see Mr. Sterling, you can be an owner of a professional sports team in this country, offend an entire race of people and still barely register a blip on the radar screen in the grand scheme of things….if you pick the right race. By that I mean a race that doesn’t have large population numbers, political or consumer clout, or an overwhelming number of athletes of that persuasion in the league that you’re a member. I give you the Washington Redskins as exhibit “A.”

African Americans, Mr. Sterling, make up a whopping 76.3% of the NBA and over 13% of our nation’s entire population (according to the 2012 US Census). Seriously, what were you thinking? Native Americans on the other hand? Just barely over 1% of our population and as far as I can find there has never even been a Native American in the NBA. Easy pickings, right Daniel Snyder? If only Miss Stiviano had posted Instagram photos with her and, let’s say for example, St. Louis Rams QB Sam Bradford, who’s part Cherokee, instead of those with her and Magic Johnson…… Sterling could have ranted and raved till his black heart’s content and I wonder if anyone would have ever heard about it.

Snyder says he’ll never change the name of his team

Now according to Daniel Snyder, the name of his NFL franchise is “not an issue” for Native Americans, and Snyder and the NFL have presented a unified front when addressing the subject, time after time citing the results of a ten-year-old 2004 “survey” that showed 90% of 768 self-identified Native Americans polled having said the team name “Redskins” did not bother them. The Oneida Indian Nation of Wisconsin, however, might disagree. The Tribe responded Tuesday to the NBA’s decisive actions in a released statement; “By banning Clippers owner Donald Sterling, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and other NBA team owners have taken a courageous stand against racism in professional sports, acknowledging that professional leagues must not be a platform to promote bigotry. In taking such appropriate disciplinary action, the NBA has shown other leagues, including the NFL, that they have a moral responsibility to take disciplinary action against people like Washington owner Dan Snyder, who also continues to proudly promote bigotry by using a dictionary-defined racial slur as his team’s name.”

You know Dan, it kind of sounds like some of them might have an issue with it.

Mr. Snyder recently introduced, amidst much self promoted fanfare, the Washington Redskins Original Americans Foundation, which according to Snyder will “provide meaningful and measurable resources that provide genuine opportunities” for Native Americans. Snyder said that the Redskins have already donated more than 3,000 coats to several tribes, as well as shoes to boys’ and girls’ basketball teams on reservations, and that the franchise helped purchase a backhoe for the Omaha Tribe of Nebraska. Sound anything like Donald Sterling giving away Clipper tickets to underprivileged minority children of Los Angeles, or for years donating money to the L.A. chapter of the NAACP, for which he achieved a lifetime achievement award in 2009 (and believe it or not was actually scheduled to receive a 2nd similar award next month)? Yeah it does to me too.

Just a couple weeks ago, the National Indian Gaming Association, a nonprofit that includes 184 Indian nations as members, canceled its sponsorship of a charity golf event in Arizona because it didn’t want to be associated with the Washington Redskins Original Americans Foundation, which just so happened to be the official sponsor.

You sure they’re all ok with the name Dan?

Notah Begay finds the name Redskins racially offensive

“The Washington football team’s front office has tried to make the issue about them and it’s really not about them,” golf analyst and Native American Notah Begay said recently. “It’s about, unfortunately, the NFL and its owners and its corporate partners condoning use of that word. I don’t think if a similar racially offensive word was used for the Hispanic, African American or Jewish communities that it would be tolerated.”

Representative Eni Faleomavaega (D-American Samoa) said in a statement that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell had “missed the point” about the nickname. “You cannot have it both ways. Whether good intentioned or not, the fact of the matter is that the term ‘Redskin’ is a racial slur that disparages Native Americans. It is time for the NFL to stop making excuses for itself and fully embrace its so-called commitment to diversity.”

Yeah it really doesn’t sound like they’re all OK with it Dan.

Snyder, for his part, has gone on record stating, “The Redskins will never change the name. It’s that simple. NEVER. You can put that in capital letters.” Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not for one minute comparing Daniel Snyder to Donald Sterling, or calling Mr. Snyder a racist. He didn’t name the team, and as far as I know he’s never made any public statements slurring any race, creed or color of people (although Sterling’s comments weren’t made publicly either). But I am accusing Mr. Snyder, and the NFL for that matter, of being incredibly insensitive to a race of proud people, who just like African Americans, have suffered a long history of being terribly mistreated in this country. But has been the case for hundreds of years on this continent, Native Americans seem to be fighting a losing battle. My question to Daniel Snyder and the NFL is a simple one – if an expansion team wanted to join the league with the team name ‘Redskins’ next year, is there a chance in hell it would be granted? Of course not. No more of a chance than Blackskins, Yellowskins, or Pastey Whiteskins would be allowed.

Remember what Kevin Johnson said of Donald Sterling’s comments, “you just can’t believe that it’s 2014,” and  “this was so personal to me.” I agree that its hard to believe that in 2014 in a multi-billion dollar enterprise like the NFL, an enterprise that relies on the support of both the general public and corporate American alike for its thriving livelihood, has allowed the name Redskins to remain in place. Do you think for one moment if Native Americans comprised 3/4 of the NFL rosters (as African Americans do the NBA) this would still even be a topic of discussion? Of course not, the name would have been retired years ago. I just wish it was “personal” to a few more people, maybe some other NFL owners, or maybe someone not of Native American descent but who has a platform to speak like Mr. Johnson. But that’s just wishful thinking.

The bottom line is this decision shouldn’t be left up to Daniel Snyder alone, a man with a substantial financial stake in this matter, to be the moral compass. The name Redskins offends and hence it is racist, and there should be no room for that in this country – or the NFL.  Its just a shame that once again the Native American stands alone in his fight, and that corporate America (and America in general) won’t fight the good fight on behalf of all races because its the right thing to do, but instead pick their battles based only on the fear of potential oncoming financial impact (such as boycotts). Once again the Native American is undermanned, under funded and under supported, and once again will most likely lose his fight.



  1. “Vikings” marauded, looted, and pillaged my ancestors homeland. I’m only one….but I guess enough. Minnesota must change the name. Arizona “Red Devils”….as a Christian, that offends me. Change it. A “tiger” killed my uncle in India. I’m sensitive about that. Cincinnati, Detroit, Auburn….many more, change the name. I’m vegetarian….Packers offend me. Change it. I’m also short….no more “Giants.” I could blather on and on and on about what, sports nicknames. With all the real problems in the world, it’s amazing how much time/effort is given to such a nothing issue. Bunch of academic pinhead do-gooders decided Indians should be offended. Guess what? American Indians don’t f’ing care!!! A friend of mine (full blooded Cherokee) told me, “Yeah….our skin’s pretty damn red.” Next….

  2. Mark – as a full blooded Navajo I can assure you that not all Native Americans are “fine” with the derogatory name “Redskins”. To us it is a term that reflects the hatred and bigotry that as a race we have experienced for centuries, -no different than the “N” word when referring to African Americans. Both were terms that in the past were used in derogatory and demeaning ways. To make the comparisons that you did is both ludicrous and absurd – but I must admit having people such as you make these arguments only lends credibility to our fight against ignorance.

  3. My point (missed) was that “…if ONE person is offended, the name must be changed…” or the like. Really? One? That’s all it takes? Now that’s “ludicrous” and “absurd.” Indians I know (and ones I don’t) roll their eyes and laugh at this whole issue. They have MUCH bigger issues than simple sports team names. I’m sure you do too.

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