At a time when Redskins owner Daniel Snyder has insisted he’ll never change the team’s name, Commissioner Roger Goodell continues to take a somewhat softer stance.
In a Wednesday appearance with LaVar Arrington and Chad Dukes of 106.7 The Fan in Washington, Goodell reiterated his recent willingness to acknowledge that some may be legitimately troubled by the term.
“I think what we have to do though is we have to listen,” Goodell said. “If one person is offended, we have to listen.”
Goodell comments represent the latest step in a subtle evolution by the league from denial of the existence of a problem to acceptance of the reality that a slowly growing segment of the population finds the name troubling.
At his annual pre-Super Bowl press conference, Goodell sidestepped a question on the subject by saying, “I don’t think anybody wants to offend anybody.” Since then, he has adopted a posture that acknowledges the possibility that offense will be taken, regardless of intent.
In a response to a letter from 10 members of Congress, Goodell initially defended the name, but he then admitted that the “issues raised with respect to the Washington Redskins name are complex.” Goodell also pointed out that the NFL “respect[s] that reasonable people may view it differently, particularly over time.”
In August, Goodell addressed the name again, in connection with the controversy that emerged regarding the use of a racial slur by Eagles receiver Riley Cooper.
“We have to continue to be open and continue to listen, but we also want to make sure we’re doing what’s right to encourage that heritage and that pride that we have in the Redskins name. But we’ll always listen and be open,” Goodell said.
Wednesday’s comments, in our view, come the closest yet to a concession that, at some point in time, the voices that are speaking out against the name will outnumber and overpower the voices that, in many cases, hope to currently shout down the dissenters.
“Ultimately it is Dan’s decision,” Goodell said of a possible name change. “But it’s something that I want all of us to go out and make sure we’re listening to our fans, listening to people of a different view, and making sure that we continue to do what’s right to make sure that team represents the strong tradition and history that it has for so many years.”
In other words, at some point the name no longer represents a “strong tradition and history.” At some point the name becomes inherently offensive even if it is intertwined for decades with the name of a football team. At some point the name will have to be changed, whether because of political, judicial, or economic pressure.
Goodell’s latest remarks leave the door open for action if/when the opposition to the name reaches national critical mass. He senses that the day is coming; the only question is whether it happens before or after he retires from the job he already has held for seven years.