Rush Limbaugh characterized the debate over the racially charged name of the National Football League's Washington Redskins as a “manufactured controversy,” wondering whether anyone is truly offended by the name. Limbaugh is apparently unaware that American Indian tribes, members of Congress, the U.S. judicial system, and others have all raised concerns that the team name is racially disparaging.
On the September 12 edition of his radio show, Limbaugh complained that the Redskins name was under attack and questioned whether anyone was actually offended by the team name. Rush asked, “Who is bothered by this?” He then argued that the franchise's consistent ability to sell out games was evidence that objections to the name are a “manufactured controversy, manufactured by the left.”
To answer Limbaugh's question, a whole lot of people are offended -- and have been for a long time. Native Americans have been protesting the team name for at least the past twenty years. Native American activist Suzan Shown Harjo told NPR, “The name is one of the last vestiges of racism that is held right out in the open in America.” The Oneida Indian Nation -- an American Indian tribe in upstate New York -- has launched a radio ad campaign against the name, decrying it as a “racial slur.”
Ten members of Congress have publicly requested that the team's owner, Dan Snyder, change the name. In a letter to Snyder this year, the legislators wrote, “Native Americans throughout the country consider the 'R-word' a racial, derogatory slur akin to the 'N-word' among African Americans or the 'W-word' among Latinos.”
The name has even been recognized as derogatory by administrative bodies of the U.S. government. The Washington Post reported on a decision by the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board which found the name to be “disparaging” to Native Americans:
It is also a team with the most patently offensive name in pro sports. A 1999 ruling by the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board even found as much, revoking the Redskins' trademark because it “may disparage Native Americans and bring them into contempt or disrepute.” The decision was overturned on the grounds that the lawsuit had not been pursued in a timely enough manner.
One prominent sports writer, Sports Illustrated's Peter King, will no longer repeat the name of the team because it “offends too many people,” and he noted that, among many others, the American Indian Movement considers the name a slur.
The list goes on. But those who expect Limbaugh to acknowledge the sincerity of their concerns shouldn't hold their breath. The radio host isn't known for his grasp of racial controversy.