Redskins: No harm, no foul, Mr. Costas
The broadcaster's commentary on the controversy over the NFL team's name misses the point.

Reuters

  • Title:

    The Tyranny of Clichés
  • Hardcover Price:

    27.95
  • Hardcover ISBN:

    9781595230867
  • Buy the Book

Article Highlights

  • I say this not as someone who has particular love for the Redskins or its name. I say this as a lover of words.

    Tweet This

  • Words are magical things, routinely defying the sort of logic-chopping on display in Costas' tirade.

    Tweet This

  • This debate is about bad words.

    Tweet This

  • I hope Slate will be similarly brave about refusing to use the "C" in NAACP.

    Tweet This

  • Costas and the editors of Slate are simply deciding to be offended by something they don't need to be.

    Tweet This

"Think for a moment about the term 'Redskins,'" NBC Sports commentator Bob Costas exhorted viewers during his halftime tirade of Sunday's Cowboys-Redskins game. "Ask yourself what the equivalent would be, if directed [at] African Americans. Hispanics. Asians. Or members of any other ethnic group. When considered that way, 'Redskins' can't possibly honor a heritage or a noble character trait, nor can it possibly be considered a neutral term.

"It is an insult, a slur, no matter how benign the present-day intent," Costas continued.

This is ludicrous. I say this not as someone who has particular love for the Redskins or its name. I say this as a lover of words.

Words are magical things, routinely defying the sort of logic-chopping on display in Costas' tirade. Their euphony can be a siren calling us to dangerous shores. Logophillic pundit William Safire, an unreconstructed paronomasiac, could be so seduced by clever puns, he often crashed whole columns into them. My former boss, William F. Buckley, was often in the dock on charges of aggravated sesquipedalianism, to which he always pleaded nolo contendere, informing the court of public opinion: "I am Lapidary But Not Eristic When I Use Big Words."

But neither big words nor big wordplay are the issues in the largely eristic tussle over the Redskins. This debate is about bad words.

Slate magazine recently announced it would no longer refer to the Redskins by name. "Changing how you talk changes how you think," Editor David Plotz explained. "...If Slate can do a small part to change the way people talk about the team, that will be enough."

I hope Slate will be similarly brave about refusing to use the "C" in NAACP.

After all, the "Colored" in the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People refers to skin color too. And if I described the president of the NAA[initial redacted]P as "colored," I'd be in huge trouble.

Redskins lawyer Lanny Davis insists the team's 80-year-old name should be grandfathered in, even though he concedes that someone might be offended. Time's Sean Gregory sarcastically responds: "So we have to be sensitive to the one offended person, but can't change the name, because it's been around for a long time. Sorry, offended person. We love the name too much, for too long."

Well, yeah. I'm not offended by the C in NAACP — which isn't racist for obvious reasons — but someone out there must be. That's not an argument for changing the name. I am offended, however, that the Philadelphia Eagles are named after the Blue Eagle, the propaganda symbol of the New Deal's National Recovery Administration, which restricted competition and even threw a dry cleaner in jail for charging too little to clean a suit. But I don't think the Eagles should change their name on my account.

And that's my problem with Costas' crusade. He — and the editors of Slate — are simply deciding to be offended about something they don't need to be. "Redskin" actually has quite innocuous origins. It was probably adopted from Native Americans themselves. And though it obviously took on nastier connotations over time and in some contexts, it strains credulity to believe that the team name was intentionally pejorative or that the fans or the ownership see it that way today.

Words become offensive when we choose to be offended by them. When should we be offended? That's a tough question. "The answer, of course, lies in the context," the late Hugh Rawson wrote in his lovely lexicon, "Wicked Words." "The meanings of words change according to who says them, to whom, and in what circumstances." Rawson chronicled many words that were uncontroversial in Chaucer and Shakespeare but are considered repellent today.

Ultimately, of course, this isn't a fight about words but about cultural politics and the imperative to scrub society of all offensive language (or, often, merely language that offends liberals). That fight will never end, and not just because some people always need to be offended by something. It will never end because words themselves will never cooperate.

Also Visit
AEIdeas Blog The American Magazine
About the Author

 

Jonah
Goldberg

  •  


    A bestselling author and columnist, Jonah Goldberg's nationally syndicated column appears regularly in scores of newspapers across the United States. He is also a columnist for the Los Angeles Times, a member of the board of contributors to USA Today, a contributor to Fox News, a contributing editor to National Review, and the founding editor of National Review Online. He was named by the Atlantic magazine as one of the top 50 political commentators in America. In 2011 he was named the Robert J. Novak Journalist of the Year at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). He has written on politics, media, and culture for a wide variety of publications and has appeared on numerous television and radio programs. Prior to joining National Review, he was a founding producer for Think Tank with Ben Wattenberg on PBS and wrote and produced several other PBS documentaries. He is the recipient of the prestigious Lowell Thomas Award. He is the author of two New York Times bestsellers, The Tyranny of Clichés (Sentinel HC, 2012) and Liberal Fascism (Doubleday, 2008).  At AEI, Mr. Goldberg writes about political and cultural issues for American.com and the Enterprise Blog.

    Follow Jonah Goldberg on Twitter.


  • Phone: 202-862-7165
    Email: jonah.goldberg@aei.org

What's new on AEI

image Recovering from tax time blues
image 10 welfare reform lessons
image Let HHS nominee Sylvia Burwell explain Obamacare lie
image Why bold ideas backfire in politics
AEI on Facebook
Events Calendar
  • 14
    MON
  • 15
    TUE
  • 16
    WED
  • 17
    THU
  • 18
    FRI
Wednesday, April 16, 2014 | 10:00 a.m. – 11:00 a.m.
Calling treason by its name: A conversation with Liam Fox

Join us at AEI as the Right Honorable Liam Fox sits down with Marc Thiessen to discuss and debate whether America’s intelligence agencies have infringed on the personal privacy of US citizens.

Thursday, April 17, 2014 | 4:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m.
The curmudgeon's guide to getting ahead

How can young people succeed in workplaces dominated by curmudgeons who are judging their every move? At this AEI book event, bestselling author and social scientist Charles Murray will offer indispensable advice for navigating the workplace, getting ahead, and living a fulfilling life.

No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.