Smile Politely

On Mike Ditka, Redskins, and liberal idiots like me

If you live in Chicago or are a Chicago sports fan, you know that pronouncements by former Bears coach Mike Ditka are the equivalent of tablets being brought down from Mount Sinai. Only God himself has the same status as Coach Ditka. And only sometimes.

So it was a relief to have “da Coach” finally weigh in on the controversy over the nickname of the Washington football team. At last, we could put this issue to rest once and for all.

Ditka blamed the entire issue on, naturally, “all the politically correct idiots in America.” Which I guess means me, because I produced and directed the 1997 PBS documentary In Whose Honor?, a film that critiques the use of Native American mascots and nicknames in sports. So count me as one of those “idiots.”

The Idiot and the Indian. Can you guess which is which?

The author (left), with Amanda Blackhorse (right), lead plaintiff in the trademark lawsuit against the Washington football team.

Of course, what Ditka really means is that the whole uproar over the team’s nickname is the fault of white liberals (i.e. me!), not Native Americans. He expanded on that a few days later in the Chicago Sun-Times, saying “If an American Indian says its offensive, that’s fine — I’m all for changing it.” 

That’s right, if.

Well guess what, my beloved coach? An American Indian has said it’s offensive. In fact, many thousands of them. Many, many times. And for many, many years. 

For example, take a look at my documentary, (originally released seventeen (!) years ago) you’ll hear the words of five honest-to-goodness actual brown-skinned American Indians explaining that the name is offensive. You’ll see groups of dozens of American Indians, marching, holding protest signs, and attending rallies. You’ll even see Michael Haney, a very large American Indian man with long braids (and a former college football player even!) explaining the issue to your fellow NFL Hall of Famer Franco Harris. Now there’s a name you recognize, right?

But that’s not all. If you’re not too bored to sit through more of the film, you’ll learn about resolutions from the largest and most prominent Native American organizations calling for the removal of Indian mascots and nicknames. That includes the National Congress of American Indians, the group that represents the elected leaders of the more than five hundred federally recognized Indian tribes,  the National Indian Education Association, Native American Journalists Association, the Inter-Tribal Council of the Five Civilized Tribes, and too many more to list. Also, there are individuals with such cool-sounding Indian names as Wilma Mankiller, Red Crow Westerman, and Amanda Blackhorse. Do those sound like the names of white liberals to you?

Three politically correct idiots? No, Coach Ditka, these are actual Indians(!) who opposed the Washington football team name.

(Left to right) Michael Haney, Clyde Bellecourt, Floyd Red Crow Westerman.

You see, what is interesting is that despite the very best efforts of all of these major American Indian organizations and individuals to get their voices heard on this issue over the past twenty years, you still had not heard one, single, American Indian who is against the Washington nickname. Why not? What more can these people do Coach?

Well, that’s where the politically correct liberal idiots like me come in (of course, saying politically correct liberal is redundant; everyone knows only liberals can be politically correct). It’s not because we have nothing better to do than, as you say, “sit around and think, ‘Maybe we can cause a stir over this.’” We’re incredibly busy right now too, like every American, working on our fantasy NFL football drafts and watching every preseason game on TV. We have important things to do too, you know.

No, we got involved because our Native American brothers and sisters asked for our help. There are relatively few Native American people in this country, and what few there are have virtually no access to the media. I mean, have you ever heard the opinion of a Native person in your life? So, in order for their voices to be heard, they need help from as many other people as will help. And it’s been liberal idiots like me who answered their call. Unfortunately, apparently, our voices are the only ones you hear.

So Coach Ditka, as much as it pains me to say it, and at the risk of God (or at least the city of Chicago) striking me dead for disagreeing with you… it’s not the politically correct idiots in America causing this controversy. Coach Ditka (I’m shaking and holding my breath now), you are wrong.

But, you did make a great suggestion in your interview about how to solve this controversy. You asked “what (else) are you going to call them, a Brownskin?”

And the answer is: YES. Absolutely, YES, YES, YES. You should call them Brownskins.  Because brownskin is probably the most accurate description of the members of the football team. Do you see any players with red skin on the team? No. But the majority of the players have brown (or black if you prefer) skin. So you should call them Brownskins.

Only a politically correct liberal could have a problem with this.

Picture this: You are announcing a Washington football game for TV. Washington quarterback Robert Griffin III (RG3!) escapes the rush and makes an incredible 40-yard scramble for a touchdown. So you say, “what an incredible run by that shifty brownskin Griffin.” Sound good? Or how about, “he is certainly the fastest brownskin on the field.” How do you think he would feel about that description? What about his family? The audience? The TV network?

We both know the answer to that last one: you’d be yanked off the broadcast faster than you could say, “I hate that cocky Jim McMahon.” It could even end your television-announcing career, ala Jimmy the Greek (you youngsters will have to Google that one). 

And besides, would you really feel comfortable calling a black man a brownskin?  I doubt it. So, if you wouldn’t call someone a brownskin, why would it be ok to call someone a redskin? Get it now?

Of course, that doesn’t really matter anymore. Because you said, “If an American Indian says its offensive, that’s fine — I’m all for changing it.” And since you now know that lots of American Indians say its offensive, well, glad to have you on our side Coach (and while I’ve got you here, would you mind writing an endorsement blurb for my documentary?).

So please Coach, come on over to our team. I’m not sure God will let me live if I have to say you are wrong one more time.

Bear down!          

Jay Rosenstein is the producer/director of the award-winning documentary In Whose Honor?, available from New Day Films.   

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