In this blog I sometimes point out instances of political correctness gone awry, but I also don’t hesitate to call for greater sensitivity and cultural diversity when it is genuinely needed. Changing sports team mascots is an example of an important change to the symbolism that defines our civil society, one which could have a significant impact on how people think. Just getting people to talk about the reasons for the name and logo changes would produce a lot of good consciousness raising.
However the situation with the Washington team bearing a name which is slightly to somewhat to moderately offensive to Native Americans raises another topic: We wouldn’t have to be having this debate if we reformed the ownership structure of sports teams. What would be the social benefits of eliminating private ownership of sports teams and replacing it with a public-private partnership or a system of non-profit organizations organized in the interest of the public welfare? More about this post-capitalist idea after giving readers a bit of background on the naming controversy…
For decades, American Indian activists and others have been asking, urging, and haranguing the Washington Redskins to ditch their nickname, calling it a racist slur and an insult to Indians. They have collected historical and cultural examples of the use of redskin as a pejorative and twice sued to void the Redskins trademark, arguing that the name cannot be legally protected because it’s a slur. (A ruling on the second suit is expected soon; the first failed for technical reasons.) A group in the House of Representatives also recently introduced a bill to void the trademark. The team has been criticized from every different direction, by every kind of person. More than 20 years ago, Washington Post columnist Tony Kornheiser, no politically correct squish, urged the team to abandon the name. Today, the mayor of Washington, D.C.—the mayor!—goes out of his way to avoid saying the team’s name.
Why, then, has nothing changed? Because the choice of the team’s name belongs to one person, Washington owner Daniel Snyder. He has brushed off the controversy with arm waves at “tradition,” “competitiveness,” and “honor.” He recently told USA Today, “We’ll never change the name. It’s that simple. NEVER—you can use caps.” Earlier this year, some Redskins flunky was assigned the job of locating high school teams around the country called Redskins, and found 70 of them, which proved very little except that the Redskins are capable of spreading a bad example to the young. (A Google search of “Redskins” “nickname” and “high school” turns up story after story of schools dropping the nickname.) And this May, the team pathetically trotted out a guy named Chief Dodson to explain that his people were “quite honored” by the Redskins name. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell cited Dodson’s support in a letter to the Congressional Native American Caucus, apparently not realizing that the supposedly Redskins-loving Dodson wasn’t a real chief.
And then Plotz explains that his publication doesn’t approve of the monicker (“While the name Redskins is only a bit offensive, it’s extremely tacky and dated…”) they aren’t waiting for the team’s owner. They’re just going to stop using the offensive term.
Andrew Sullivan has an extensive series of posts giving opinions about whether sports teams should modernize their dated and racially insensitive mascots. I find the topic interesting but also a diversion from a more difficult economic structural problem.
Daniel Snyder, like Donald Trump or Warren Buffett, has free reign in the U.S. economic system to run his enterprise largely as he sees fit, charging sky high prices, making fat profits, and giving the teams names as offensive as he wants. But if sports teams were quasi-socialized or mutualized, the decision-making authority would be handed over to an individual or group working in the public interest. Mutual insurance companies organize this way — their policy owners are literally owners, and profits are redistributed to them through premium refunds.
Mutualized sports teams could hoist a wide rage of benefits to the public good and social justice, lowering outrageous athlete pay sometimes in excess of $50 million for football players for instance and lowering ticket prices. How many sports fans would be interested in actually owning a piece of their favorite team, showing their loyalty and getting reduced prices on tickets as a result?
I would wager a whole lot. Sports fans would become more invested in what is happening with the team and participate in decision-making through their voting and election of officers. And the billions of dollars that taxpayers pay to fund new stadiums could actually be restructured to give taxpayers stock ownership in the teams which would use the stadiums.
From an Integral standpoint, I have to wonder if mutualization or quasi-socialization of sports teams would not raise the consciousness of many sports fans, turning Red towards Amber for instance, just as promoting an employee to a stockholder would increase their sense of participation in something wider than themselves which participates in the larger whole.
Spirituality isn’t just about connecting the little self with a God far removed from the world, but expanding the self’s sense of loyalties and concerns and caring to broader and broader communities. And in Christian terms, spirituality certainly is about more than individual salvation; it’s about our collective embodiment of the Reign of Heaven come.