Lee: The NFL should learn from the NBA

BY ASHLEY LEE | MAY 16, 2014 5:00 AM

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The NFL can learn a thing or two from the NBA. In light of the Donald Sterling controversy, sparked when the Clippers owner expressed offensive remarks about Black people, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver delivered a speech where he not only fined Sterling, but banned him from attending NBA games and associating with the athletic organization for life.

Previous and current NBA players also expressed their intolerance with his racism.

The NBA took a strong stand, but what about the NFL and its own handling of racism? The organization needs to adopt the same zero-tolerance for racism seen in the NBA.

Instead of considering the ban of the N-word among players — a word that is not only accepted and used by some African-Americans, but also none of corporate’s concern whether or not African-Americans choose to use it or not — the NFL needs to better distinguish between what is worth changing and what is not.

The league’s attempt to police Black players' use of the N-word through potential fines and fouls should not be an issue. It is not in the place of referees, coaches, and other officials to interfere with how some players of an in-group may choose to interact with one another.

There are bigger issues that need to be addressed. For instance, a race that has been (and continues to be) historically disenfranchised should not be a mascot.

Regardless of “tradition” — the primary way in which Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder defended his position to not change the team’s mascot in an open letter addressed to fans last fall — preserving the heritage of a racial minority by reducing them to a mascot is dehumanizing.

The image of a Native American on sports attire, a headdress worn by those who are not members of Native American culture, even the outdated term of Redskin, is both problematic and an act of cultural appropriation.

But according to Snyder and perhaps his supporters, “Redskins continues to hold the memories and meaning of where we came from, who we are, and who we want to be.”

What they fail to understand is that the accomplishments the team has made and the legacies that derived from such achievements are not completely lost by a change in name. While I can understand the supposed inconvenience of changing the identity of an organization that has been cherished for 81 years, where a mascot has had a significantly role in the history of an athletic business, the team name still has to change.

Snyder said the Washington Redskins “is a symbol of everything we stand for … the same values we know guide Native Americans which are embedded throughout their rich history as the original Americans.”

Such values — strength, courage, pride, and respect — can still be embraced, just not in “honor” of a minority group that has been slighted and disrespected in this country for centuries. European imperialism, forced assimilation, and the genocide of Native Americans is something that should not be trivialized and buried beneath supposed appreciation as a mascot.

Doing so is utterly naïve and shows one’s ignorance in not recognizing the historic power structure still at hand between whites and nonwhites, something descendants of Europeans continually benefit from. The NFL should act decisively to stop this.

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