The Right to Use Wrong Words

This week the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation, a Northern California Native American tribe ran this ad during the during the NBA finals.

The ad is a shorter cut of a longer version that has been making the rounds on the internet for a few months now. Controversy over the Washington Redskins is nothing new–we covered it here. Last season saw louder and more pointed calls for owner Dan Snyder to change the racist moniker, including a statement from the POTUS–all of which he ignored. Makes you wonder who really is the most powerful man in the world….


Viewers of the NBA finals are sure to have a leg up on Dan Snyder in the cause-effect relationship between racist behavior and team ownership. Snyder has clearly operated under the assumption that his decision on the team name is his and his alone.


Dan Snyder, Donald Sterling on the line….what’s that Don? Stripped of my ownership? They can’t do that….

Or can they? That is the lingering question in the slow moving explosion that is the Donald Sterling situation. What seemed so clear in the light of our outrage a few weeks ago was that a team owner could not be a raging racist ruling a plantation of players. Despite hard core hold outs on the wrong side of racial tolerance, most agreed Sterling had to go.  Players from across the league boldly put integrity before profit and pledged not to return to play if Sterling still owned the team come fall.


Despite all of Sterling’s best efforts to get a beatdown in the parking lot have a butterfly net thrown over him in an interview with Anderson Cooper, he still owns the team weeks later. Reversing an earlier agreement to sell the team for a madly profitable $2 billion, Sterling is suing the NBA for a billion dollars. Before you chalk this up to King-Lear-crazy, sure to end in tragedy, consider Sterling’s peer Snyder.



The term Redskins is a pejorative, racist name for Native Americans, period. The term has a long and ugly history, connected to a genocide, one of America’s darkest legacies. People directly affected by this have respectfully requested Snyder cease use of it many times. Widespread protest of many people, including fans have been to no avail. At what point does the decision to use the term pass from Dan Snyder to someone, anyone, who might make a change? What role does the NFL and the owners association have, if any?

The National Congress of American Indians  released this poster to call attention to the offensive Redskins logo.
The National Congress of American Indians released this poster to call attention to the offensive Redskins logo.


Dan Snyder is not Donald Sterling. It’s easy to dismiss the crazy Sterling circus, but what we do when the perpetrator is less crazy and more entrenched in both sanity and his property rights? With this protest ad running during the NBA finals, Native Americans are definitely letting the NFL know that their protests cannot continue to be ignored in an era where pointed racism is an unacceptable  way to run a sports team.

With the precedent of the blow up surrounding Sterling, we can be sure that there are a few more rounds in the fight to retract the Redskins  name.  But with the outcome of the Sterling situation still in flux, hard questions remain ahead.

Creating a hostile work environment is against the law, but calling the Washington Redskins the Redskins is still legal even if increasingly unpopular.  If we want to be fair, and respect the rights of people to not be represented in terribly racist ways, then we have to keep the pressure on Snyder and the NFL to make change.


There is power in protest if it is partnered with persistence, but it has to be more than a few lone voices.  Take a moment to shoot your good friend Dan Snyder a tweet here @Redskins, or a Facebook message here–help him avoid another season of shame.

Author: Susan X Jane

Susan X Jane is a diversity educator, speaker, and trainer and coach. A former professor and media literacy activist, she now consults with organizations looking to make sense of our current cultural shift. She thinks a lot about media and race…a lot...and writes and speaks about media…and race... and encourages everyone she meets to think about the way our identity shapes our experiences, ideas, and beliefs about the world. If you're reading this, she wants you to think about it too. Want to talk about it? Let's go.

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