In Richmond, Virginia, protesters recently toppled a statue of Christopher Columbus. The assault on the Columbus statue happened as part of the broader reexamination of systemic racism engrained in the very soul of the New World, from the moment Europeans first arrived.
Racism is racism, regardless of the specific race whose members find themselves on the wrong side of unequal treatment. As argued last week, a true commitment by the NFL to combat systemic racism must include an effort to eradicate all evidence of it, including the most obvious evidence of it in all of pro sports: One of the NFL’s 32 franchises is a contemptuous term used to refer to a Native American Indian.
There has been little traction, yet, for using this moment as the catalyst for making that specific change. There should be. NASCAR has used this moment to rid itself of a flag that symbolizes a violent insurrection against America aimed at preserving slavery. The musical group Lady Antebellum has used this moment to change its name to Lady A, given the association of the word “antebellum” with slavery — even though most weren’t even making that connection or demanding that change.
Although the current movement happened after the murder of a black man by police in Minneapolis, our national awakening to decades of passive tolerance of systemic racism should spark an eradication of any and all forms of racism inherent to our society. That’s why the Columbus statue in Richmond is gone. And that’s why the name of the team that has held training camp in recent years in Richmond also should be gone.
Washington coach Ron Rivera, one of four minority coaches in the NFL, conducted a videoconference with reporters on Wednesday. Rivera expressed support for the protests regarding inequality experienced by black Americans, along with support for players who may choose to peacefully protest during the anthem.
“I have been tasked with leading this entire organization and I have always believed in the mantra that actions speak louder than words,” Rivera said.
At this time in history, two actions from the NFL would scream louder than anything else the league could say or do: (1) repair Colin Kaepernick; and (2) change the Washington name.
Somewhat surprisingly, none of the reporters on the videoconference asked the simple, straightforward question of whether Rivera believes the team’s name should change. That possibly happened because of the common dynamic that happens during press conferences, when an uncomfortable topic becomes the elephant in the room and everyone waits for someone else to be the one to point it out. Sometimes, the uncomfortable topic is never mentioned.
It needs to be. Rivera needs to be asked for his thoughts on the team’s name. Does he agree that it is a dictionary-defined slur? If not, why not? If so, what will be done to address it? Does he, as the man “tasked with leading the entire organization” have the ability and the willingness to tell owner Daniel Snyder not what should happen, but what will happen?
For now, the push for equal justice will understandably focus on the chronic mistreatment of black Americans. At some point, the movement must shift its focus to the chronic mistreatment of Native Americans, if the goal is (as it should be) to end all forms of racism in America, as to all races. Washington and the NFL can lead from ahead, and not from behind, by changing the name before the pressure to do so inevitably mounts to a point where it won’t be a topic that is nonchalantly omitted from a press conference with the head coach.