Mike Ditka is the crusty old coot of the football world, the grandpa you love even as he says things that make you cringe. So now that Ditka has waded into the controversy over the Washington NFL team’s name, it’s tempting to ignore him, just as you try to ignore the old neighbor who talks your ear off about how everything was better back in his day, when men were men and Herbert Hoover was president.
Still, the 74-year-old Ditka’s recent comments about the Redskins name have received enough attention that they probably merit a response. Ditka talked to a totally unbiased website called RedskinsHistorian.com, and he made it clear that he’s angry about this newfangled effort to change the name of the team in Washington.
“What’s all the stink over the Redskin name?” Ditka said. “It’s so much horse s–t it’s incredible. We’re going to let the liberals of the world run this world.”
Ditka has never made any secret of his dislike of liberals. Ditka briefly considered running against Barack Obama in the 2004 U.S. Senate race in Illinois, and he has said declining to do that is his greatest regret in life, because he believes he could have prevented Obama from becoming president. But if Ditka thinks only liberals oppose the use of a racial slur as the name of an NFL team, he’s sorely mistaken. John McCain, who unlike Ditka really did run against Obama, has said the Redskins should probably change their name. Charles Krauthammer, the Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for the Washington Post who is among the most conservative voices in the American media, has written that the team should change its name. Tom Cole, a Republican who is one of only two Native Americans in Congress, wrote to Commissioner Roger Goodell that, “The NFL can no longer ignore this and perpetuate the use of this name as anything but what it is: a racial slur.”
Whether opponents of the team name are liberal or conservative, Ditka believes they’re wrong. Just as Daniel Snyder has, Ditka insists that the team’s name is meant as a sign of respect.
“It was said out of reverence, out of pride to the American Indian,” Ditka said.
Ditka appeals to tradition in support of his beliefs.
“It’s been the name of the team since the beginning of football. It has nothing to do with something that happened lately, or something that somebody dreamed up. This was the name, period. I mean, leave it alone,” Ditka said.
Ditka is wrong that “Redskins” has been the team’s name since the beginning of football. It’s actually been the team name only since 1933. It’s also true that the owner who gave them the Redskins name, George Preston Marshall, was a vicious racist who refused to sign black players until 1962, when the federal government told him his team wouldn’t be permitted to play in Washington, D.C., anymore if he didn’t agree to integrate. Times change.
Snyder won’t change, however, and Ditka believes that Snyder deserves respect for his stubborn stance against changing his team’s name.
“I admire him for it,” Ditka said. “Really, I think it’s tradition, it’s history, it’s part of the National Football League. It was about Sammy Baugh and all the guys who were Redskins way back then. I didn’t think that Lombardi and Halas never had a problem with it, why would all these other idiots have a problem with the name? I’m sorry. I’m not very tolerant when it comes to the liberals who complain about everything.”
It may be true that Vince Lombardi and George Halas had no problem with the name “Redskins” when they were involved in the NFL, many decades ago. It is also utterly irrelevant to the question of whether “Redskins” is an appropriate name for a team in 2014.
There’s a lot to respect about Ditka, a Hall of Fame tight end turned Super Bowl-winning coach who has been a great ambassador for the game of football. But Ditka also talks a lot about that which he knows nothing. This is one of those times.