President Barack Obama took a break from a week-long government shutdown to weigh in on perhaps the second-most contentious issue in the nation’s capital: Changing the Washington Redskins nickname.
“If I were the owner of the team and I knew that the name of my team — even if they’ve had a storied history — was offending a sizable group of people, I’d think about changing it,” Obama told the Associated Press during an interview.
I agree with Obama.
With his ground-breaking comments, Obama has made history once again: He is perhaps the first sitting president to say he would consider changing the Washington Redskins nickname – and his truth could not have come at a better time in the debate.
“All these mascots and team names related to Native Americans, Native Americans feel pretty strongly about it,” Obama said Saturday. “And I don’t know whether our attachment to a particular name should override the real, legitimate concerns that people have about these things.”
Obama is using his second term in office – and his White House bully pulpit — to confront racism and, in this case, the president is calling out the Redskins for its racially offensive nickname.
The Washington Redskins nickname is not only offensive – it’s racist. Native Americans have argued for years that the name offends them, but Redskins owner Dan Snyder has refused requests from Native Americans and others to change the name, which originated during the 1930s.
But take a moment to reflect on the magnitude of Obama’s statement.
As America’s first black president who has already told the nation that he has experienced racial discrimination and outright bigotry, Obama now wades into a highly emotional issue where he is essentially firing a shot over Synder’s bow by using five simple yet powerful words: “If I were the owner…”
Obama is a brilliant politician. He doesn’t make statements on the fly; he doesn’t utter comments without thinking it through; and he certainly would not inject himself into this hornet’s nest if he didn’t feel passionate about the cause. The president could have simply said nothing and let others argue the issue.
But he didn’t.
So why should Obama bother to talk about a sports issue and the Redskins changing its nickname? Because it’s not just a sports story – the “Redskins” nickname is a longstanding symbol of how American citizens are still being demeaned and who better to support Native Americans than America’s first black president.
“As the first sitting president to speak out against the Washington team name, President Obama’s comments are truly historic,” said Oneida Indian Nation representative Ray Halbritter. “The use of such an offensive term has negative consequences for the Native American community when it comes to issues of self-identity and imagery.”