We should maintain that if an interpretation of any word in any religion leads to disharmony and does not positively further the welfare of the many, then such an interpretation is to be regarded as wrong; that is, against the will of God, or as the working of Satan or Mara.

Buddhadasa Bikkhu, a Thai Buddhist Monk

Friday, October 25, 2013

Fighting Over a Name (Round Two)

The Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome
The debate over use of American Indian names or references in sports has come up again in a big way with regards to the name of the Washington, D.C. football team.  The "R word" is clearly a racial slur although there are those (including some Indians) who say that it isn't.  The owner of the team has vowed not to change the name, which he sees as an embodiment of its rich football heritage, but one wonders how long he will be able to hold out against mounting pressure for a change.  It has only made matters harder for him that President Obama has spoken in favor of a new name.

The reason I bring this up is because of a posting on the Minneapolis Star Tribune website reporting (here) that representatives of the American Indian Movement have petitioned the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority to prevent any display of the the Washington team's name or logo in an upcoming game at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome in Minneapolis.  AIM has threatened legal action if the MSFA ignores or denies its petition.  It is this kind of pressure that is going to make it harder and harder for the team to resist a change.

In an August 2011 posting reflecting on the dispute over University of North Dakota's use of the name "Fighting Sioux" (here), I wrote, "What is most important about the controversy surrounding the use of Indian names and mascots in sports is the controversy itself. It encourages us to be more self-conscious in our attitudes towards Indians and the injustices they continue to suffer. The debate over names is a small step forward in our search for a just, equitable society and thus a good thing...Political correctness in both society generally and the church in particular is a mixed bag at best, but in this case it is important and helpful."  In the case of the Washington football team's name, however, I would argue that the name itself is as important as the larger issue.  It is offensive.  It reflects an ugly side of our history and our nations' unjust, racist treatment of American Indians right down to the present.  It is time for a change.