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Washington Redskins Name: Proud Heritage or Racial Slur?

Aired October 18, 2013 - 18:28   ET



ANNOUNCER: Tonight on CROSSFIRE, the Washington Redskins: Is the name a proud tribute on to our national heritage?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's not about disrespect. It's about loving the Redskins.

ANNOUNCER: Or is it an offensive throwback to a racist past?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is a racial epithet. It's a racial slur.

ANNOUNCER: On the left, Van Jones. On the right, S.E. Cupp. In the CROSSFIRE Eleanor Holmes Norton, who supports changing the team's name, and talk radio host Larry Elder, who's against it. Renaming the Redskins. Is it righting a wrong or caving into political correctness? Tonight on CROSSFIRE.


VAN JONES, CO-HOST: Welcome to CROSSFIRE. I'm Van Jones on the left.

S.E. CUPP, CO-HOST: I'm S.E. Cupp on the right.

In the CROSSFIRE tonight, D.C. delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton and radio talk show host Larry Elder.

You've probably heard about it. There's a battle brewing here in Washington. It isn't between Democrats and Republicans. It's over the name of the Washington Redskins. Listen to what race relations scholar Bob Costas said on NBC's "Sunday Night Football."


BOB COSTAS, SPORTS COMMENTATOR, NBC'S "SATURDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL": "Redskins" can't possibly honor a heritage or a noble character trait. Nor can it possibly be considered a neutral term. It's an insult, a slur, no matter how benign the present-day intent.


CUPP: As if Washington doesn't have enough on its plate, suddenly the battle over the name of its local football team is urgent business. Now, I can absolutely imagine the name Redskins being offensive, but in an odd twist, most Native Americans disagree. Many, like the Spirit Lake reservation's Fighting Sioux and the Seminoles, are proud of their heritage and proud it's being celebrated. So it's pretty hard to see this as anything other than a media creation and political correctness at its worst.

JONES: Well, I just couldn't disagree more. First of all, it's not political correctness when the dictionary defines the term as derogatory.

Also, I've been talking to Native American leaders, and they say this term actually originated when bounty hunters went out to kill Native Americans and scalp them and bring back that redskin. So I can understand why they might not want that term bandied about here in the nation's capital.

But we've got some good guests here to help us sort it out. In the CROSSFIRE tonight, D.C. delegate to Congress, the legendary Eleanor Holmes Norton. She's calling for changing the team's name. Also rising star, talk show host Larry Elder, who's...


JONES: Not legendary yet. You're on your way, and I'm glad you're here.

Now, listen, I want to start with you. You know, we don't agree on very much, but one thing that we do agree on and have always agreed on is the importance of family hood and the importance of fatherhood. I want to ask you a question.

If you were to go to a football game, and you were to see a Native American family and a Native American father there with his children, would you walk up to him and say, "Hi there, Redskin. I'm so glad you brought your Redskin children"? Would you do that?

ELDER: I wouldn't do that, because it would be kind of a silly thing to say.

CUPP: Ludicrous.

ELDER: The reason -- the reason the name is called the Redskins is because the owner back in 1930, George Marshall, was honoring the coach of the Redskins, who was part Sioux.

And as you pointed out, most Native Americans have no problem with the name. In fact, only 11 percent do. That's about, Van, as close as you can get to unanimous, because 10 percent of the American people believe that Elvis is still alive. So that's about as good as you can get.

And you mentioned family. I'm happy you did. Because if I were Bob Costas and I'm concerned about the Native American sensibility, I would be concerned about the fact that on the native reservations, where about a third of the Native Americans live, high unemployment, high alcoholism. Why? Because of the welfare state that we have done and managed to make Indians -- Native Americans dependent. That's a far bigger issue.

CUPP: Congresswoman, you know, there's a perfectly fair argument that this is an offensive term, but to whom? Polling is not great on this, but there was an Annenberg survey in 2004 that found that 90 percent of Native Americans said the name didn't bother them.

Chief Robert Two Eagles Green of the Patawomeck tribe had this to say. He said, "Frankly, the members of my tribe, the vast majority don't find it offensive. I've been a Redskins fan for years, and I would be offended if they did change it."

Who are your victims here?

REP. ELEANOR HOLMES NORTON (D), WASHINGTON, D.C.: This is not about victimhood. You know, it's interesting that you two cite 10- year-old...

ELDER: I didn't.

NORTON: I did not interrupt you, and if you're going to interrupt me we're going to really get to fisticuffs.

CUPP: Mine was 10 years old his wasn't.

ELDER: The A.P. poll in March.

NORTON: All right. All right. Let me explain what I think was at work there, because I think that's fair. The American Indians are, what, 2, 3 percent of the population. The largest coalition of American Indians, the American Council of American Indians, is on record strongly for changing the name as a derogatory name, as defined in the dictionary.

JONES: And they represent 150 tribes, the vast majority of federal tribes...


JONES: ... and two thirds of the Native American population.

NORTON: Now let me explain going up to people and saying -- and here's how it's usually posed -- "Should they change the name Redskins? Or does the name Redskins offend you?"

Look, I'm a third-generation Washingtonian. Used the name all my life until the Indians, the American Indians raised my consciousness to something I, former chair of the Equal Opportunity Commission, veteran of the civil rights movement, did not know.

So when people hear that it's derogatory, they wonder, "Are they saying I'm a racist?" And since I'm not, I -- I go into denial. Therefore, I deny that this name is derogatory.

But if we have a chance to, in fact, educate people about why it's derogatory, and to make them understand that it is not for us who use this team to decide what is derogatory. It is for those who receive it.

CUPP: Understood, but Congresswoman, as Larry pointed out, Native Americans have real problems. Poverty, domestic abuse, high suicide rates. In fact, listen to what one Virginia tribal chief had to say about President Obama's support to change the name. Take a listen.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why would my president say that's offensive to him? What's offensive to me is this. We have 11 state-recognized tribes, and he hasn't done one thing to get those tribes federally recognized.


CUPP: What are you guys doing for the Native Americans that you care about, to eradicate a lot of the other issues that are weighing on their minds.

NORTON: I can tell you what your side of the aisle is doing to them.

CUPP: No, I asked you the question. I asked you the question.

ELDER: This dependency on the welfare state.

NORTON: She asked me.

CUPP: No, you're not answering the question.

NORTON: But I am going to; I am going to answer it.

This has nothing to do with the Congress of the United States, and by your referring this discussion with making it look as though the hometown team and the Congress are the same thing, you are indeed conflating the politics -- the politics...

CUPP: No, I'm saying that Native Americans have real problems that are being ignored.

NORTON: And you will find that overwhelmingly they vote for Democrats.

ELDER: May I ask you a question?

CUPP: Sure.

ELDER: If Obama has weighed in on this issue, as you know, and he says, if he owned the team, he would change the name. He's president of the country. The Bureau of Indian Affairs is still called the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Stanford changed their name from Indians to Cardinal. How come President Obama hasn't done something about that, since he's so sensitive to the concerns about Native Americans?

NORTON: They don't mind being called Indians.

ELDER: Yes, they do. Stanford changed their name became the name was deemed to be offensive by some people.

NORTON: The name of the largest organization is the Council of American Indians. We're talking not about a slur that justifies that.

ELDER: Stanford changed their names, because there was perceived to be a slur, Eleanor. That's why I'm raising it.

JONES: So you asked the question. Look, we actually have learned a lot because of this controversy.

It turns out that American Indian and Native American, there's still a development there on those terms. But there's no development when it comes to this question of redskin.

And my question for you, and this is a very serious question. I can't think of any other ethnic group that we would be having this debate about, if there were an ethnic slur against them. For instance, if there was a group that had the "N" word, or if there was a group that insulted any other ethnic group.

ELDER: You really think they're the same?

JONES: Yes. In fact...

ELDER: President Obama, as you know, weighed in on this and says he feels the name is offensive, as I just now said. When the Chicago Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup in talking (ph), he invited them to the White House. If anybody said anything at all about the name Blackhawk being a slur, I must have missed it.

NORTON: We're not talking about "Blackhawk." "Redskins" is what we're talking about.

JONES: "Redskins" is in the dictionary. This is not something that some liberals made up. "Redskins" is in the dictionary as a derogatory term. So all these other terms we can talk about later, but I'm really concerned. Would you accept a group to be a sports team to be named the "N" word? You wouldn't accept that. Would you?

ELDER: I don't think they're the same, Van. They're not even the same.

JONES: So you're going to determine what's a slur? The dictionary says it's a slur; 150 tribes say it's a slur. But you're going to say it's not a slur?

ELDER: One more time, a poll in March of this year by the A.P. said only 11 percent felt that the name should be changed. That means 89 percent of them either liked it or didn't have an opinion whatsoever. One more time, this is trivial. This reminds me of when Oprah goes over to Switzerland, a billionairess, and is dissed because she can't buy a $38,000 handbag. And we're having a discussion about racism.

NORTH: Eight percent -- 80 percent of the fans across the country say it wouldn't change their minds about the team at all.

I think what is important to understand here is that people identify with the name only because they are identifying with the team. The name is not what counts. And if the name offends anyone, like Roger Goodell has recently said, that's not what we intend, and so even he has softened his view toward this name.

CUPP: Roger Goodell is saying if one person is offended, it's something we should look at. How preposterous. Don't you think there are people out there, Van, that are maybe offended by the term Yankee? That used to be a derogatory term.

ELDER: Or the Fighting Irish?

CUPP: Or the Fighting Irish?

JONES: Is it in the dictionary as a derogatory term?

CUPP: So the dictionary is now the arbiter?

JONES: Well, I think you have to have on arbiter. But here's my question. Go ahead, I'm sorry.

NORTON: Let me tell you who the arbiter is. This term has gone before the Trademark and Patent Commission three times, four times. Snyder has tried to patent other products using the name. Four times the commission has refused to do so, on the grounds that it offended the law, because the law says you cannot patent a derogatory name.

He took this to a higher court when he lost at the Patent and Trademark Commission. But for a technicality, this name couldn't be used today. It is now before the commission. Based on their own precedents, I hereby predict that that name will be found derogatory under the patent and trade law.

ELDER: Congresswoman, I think that, talking about derogatory -- I'm being a little bit facetious here -- if I'm Native American, I might be more offended by being associated with the name "Washington" after the shutdown than "Redskins."

CUPP: That's a fair point. Pretty fair.

JONES: Cheap but kind of funny. Thank you. I'm going to call a time-out. And listen, we've been talking about this and having, you know, a little bit of fun, a little bit of tension, but you know what? To me this is about something a lot bigger than just a team's name. The reason we're all so passionate, I think, is because if we don't get this right, it could mean the downfall of America as we know it.

CUPP: Wow.

JONES: Yes, now you think I'm exaggerating, I'll explain to you when we get back. I'll explain to you.


JONES: Welcome back. We have D.C. delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton here and talk radio's Larry Elder. They are in the CROSSFIRE tonight.

We are debating fiercely whether Washington should change its name -- the Washington Redskins should change their name.

ELDER: And almost killed each other during the break.

CUPP: No, no, no.

ELDER: Almost didn't make it.

JONES: Exactly.

ELDER: Almost had to call the Native Americans for a truce.

JONES: Exactly. But we'll smoke the peace pipe later.

To me this is about something, actually, much bigger than a football game. And it's not really even a joke to me. I want you to know, I'm part Native American, and I take this very personally.

To me this is really about what kind of country we're going to be. And racial slurs are simply disrespectful and out of bounds in our country. If someone were to use this term, "you redskin, you redskin," against a Native American child in school, we would call that bullying. They use it against a co-worker on the job, we would say it was harassment. If they were doing it when they were committing a crime, "you redskin," we would say it was a hate crime.

So why should Native American families have to be subjected to an insult just to enjoy a family football game?

Some people say we should not disrespect 80 years of history. I get that. But what about 8,000 years? What about that?

And so to you, I really want to talk with you about this now. I have a fear that what this really comes down to is picking on groups that are too weak to defend themselves. Most racial groups are -- and ethnic groups are so big, if you came against -- with a Japanese slur or a black slur or a Jewish slur, those groups would be able to say, "Stop it" and we would stop it. Isn't this -- aren't you concerned that, in some ways, the Native American community is so poor and is so small, as you pointed out, for whatever reason, that they just can't defend themselves? Should we be picking on small groups like this?

ELDER: I would think, if a Native American were watching this show, he or she might look at you and say, "How weak do you think I am? How insecure do you think I am? Do you think I have no ability to have self-esteem? No ability to understand my own history: I don't need you to tell me what I should be offended by. I'm more concerned about high unemployment. I'm more concerned about alcoholism. I'm more concerned about my people being dependent upon government." This is the kind of trivial issue that the media -- left-wing media often gets involved in.

JONES: Let me just say, first of all, I have Native-American heritage, and I'm offended, but more importantly, the organization that represents 150 tribes is also offended. Do you think that they're, all of them, just sort of deluded? They represent two-thirds of the Native American population.

ELDER: Again, all I know is the polls I've seen that were conducted just said 89 percent of the Native-American population has no problem whatsoever with the name.

JONES: Fair enough.

CUPP: Congresswoman, I was astonished a few months ago when Slate -- it's an online magazine -- announced it was no longer going to refer to the Washington Redskins by name in their publication, essentially putting a political agenda ahead of accuracy. It made me wonder how far does this go?

Should the FCC be fining ESPN every time it uses the name? Do you think that kids in D.C. public schools shouldn't be allowed to wear Redskins jerseys? Where does it stop?

NORTON: A number of sports writers themselves no longer use the name. Krauthammer today in "The Washington Post," gave, it seems to me, a good analysis of why he doesn't use the name.

But you know what the problem is here, I think? When the dictionary definition is trotted out, then we confront people with the notion that they have been using a slur. And that's very difficult if you want people to change the name.

So for a moment I'd like us to forget that that is the dictionary definition, and to focus on the fact that the organizations that represent the majority of American Indians today say they want the name changed. We don't need the people who have used the name need to feel that they should -- they have been doing something wrong. And I tried to purge anybody of any accusatory tone by telling them that I myself have used it all my life.

CUPP: Sure. But if you want the name changed, I imagine you'd want it changed sort of everywhere.

NORTON: No. Don't imagine what I want.

CUPP: So I'm asking you, how far does it go?

NORTON: As far as I'm concerned, my consciousness has been raised on this name. I have no idea whether there are other names that have this kind of brutal history, so this is where I stand. ELDER: Congresswoman, I interviewed an executive with PETA a little while ago, and he had a problem with the name Packers, the Green Bay Packers.

CUPP: Don't you talk about my Packers.

ELDER: Why? Because the name Packers suggests slaughtering animals and then packing them. Should the Green Bay Packers change their name?

NORTON: You know, I really resent the analogy to every single -- there was a wonderful piece on "The Washington Post" that made me laugh, as you went through the names not only of teams, but of other things that people could object to. And that really puts us in the category of -- of the trivial.

And I don't think that...

ELDER: Exactly. My point exactly.

NORTON: And I don't think that -- and here I don't think that is the way to accept a grievance that's been put on the table by American Indians themselves who say, "Look, try another name." And a number of things have been suggested. Frankly I don't want to choose the name.

I want you to know, though, this is my hometown team. And I love the team. It's not the name I love. The team.

ELDER: Bruce Friedrich is the executive director of PETA. He's in charge of their vegetarian area. He's the one who said that the name was offensive, so be sure to tell him that it's trivial.

CUPP: People over time have found other names offensive. There have been fights and arguments legislatively and otherwise over the Fighting Sioux and the Seminoles. Tribes in many cases step in and say, "No, we want to protect those names."

NORTON: You're just changing the subject. That's what they're saying.

ELDER: How about Vikings? How about Fighting Irish? How about the Rebels, University of Old Miss?

CUPP: You don't want to take this to its logical conclusion, but that's where we're taking it.

JONES: Actually, what I'm trying to do is to deal with what's not the hypothetical, but the reality: that two-thirds of the Native American community has come forward and wants to have this discussion. And they've created some very strange bedfellows. We have, for once -- I think you should be happy about this -- for once, the president of the United States and Krauthammer agree on something. Let's hear I think the president have some very interesting -- interesting things to say. And then I want to read something from our conservative hero of the day, Krauthammer. Do we have that sound from Obama?


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't know whether our attachment to a particular name should override the real legitimate concerns that people have about these things.


JONES: That's the president of the United States. And then -- now we hear from Krauthammer. Can we put his statement up? Now, this is one of the biggest conservatives, I think somebody you almost always agree with, sir. And he says -- he's not talking about victimization. He says, "Simple decency. I wouldn't want a word that defines a people, living or dead, offended or not, in a most demeaning way. It's a question not of who or how many have had their feelings hurt but of whether you want to associate yourself with a word that, for whatever historical reason, having nothing to do with you, carries inherently derogatory connotations."

Isn't this really about the character of the person speaking? And you're somebody who's really tough on this point. You want people to have good character. You have spoken out against the crassness in our culture. You've spoken out against the demeaning ways people have been treating each other, especially sometimes in our community. Isn't this an opportunity for us to elevate the discourse?

ELDER: You left out the part of Krauthammer's column where he said it's a close call.

JONES: Sure.

ELDER: So he's not intense about this. He said it's a close call.

But more importantly, I want to ask Congresswoman Holmes Norton this question. The nickname for Ole Miss is the Running Rebels. The confederate flag is offensive to a lot of people. Is the name Running Rebels offensive to you? Should they change that?

NORTON: You know what? The way that -- when you see people changing the subject...

ELDER: I'm not changing the subject. I'm trying to show you how trivial this is.

NORTON: ... no idea about...

ELDER: I'm trying to show you how trivial this is. And once we start down this path, we have to change Packers. We have to change Fighting Irish. We have to change Vikings.

NORTON: Well, wait a minute. I'm sorry. You asked me a question. I was trying to answer it.

My answer is that I have no opinion on names that have not been brought forward by groups who believe they offend them. I am responding to what American Indians themselves have said. ELDER: Do you have an opinion about Running Rebels?

CUPP: We understand that. And I understand you don't want to wade into the other topics. But part of having a debate and a conversation about this one issue is taking it to its logical conclusion and asking where does this end? How is this related to other issues?

NORTON: I'm quite prepared.

ELDER: And using...

NORTON: I'm quite prepared to say that, when it comes to a slur, as defined in the dictionary, I know that I want to start there. Where I will end, I don't know yet.


JONES: It seems like there is a principle that you're announcing. And...

ELDER: It sounds like you're saying you don't know the definition of smut but when you see it, you know it.

NORTON: No, no. When they tell me -- when they tell me I'm using a slur, then I know it.

JONES: Fair enough. And listen, it seems to me that you are concerned that, with no limiting principle, this could just run amok. And if the only thing we're concerned about is people's feelings being hurt, we won't be able to say anything at all. I understand that.

CUPP: Political correctness does run amok.

ELDER: The tipping point, though, Van -- you mentioned...

NORTON: And I think the tipping point is -- the tipping point is it's already been found derogatory by a federal agency.

JONES: Yes. So now...

ELDER: End of discussion?

JONES: No. I think now discussion can move forward.

One area of agreement that I think everybody around this table will have, I think everybody at home will have, is that Brown vs. the Board of Education is probably the high point of American jurisprudence. It ended segregation for our children. I don't think anybody here wants to overturn Brown.

ELDER: Ended segregation in schools, yes.

JONES: In schools. So the reasoning behind Brown was that, by segregating these black children, it so hurt them psychologically that it made it almost impossible for them to compete. And on that basis we were able to move forward.

Now, the American Psychological Association has now said the same thing about Native American children when it comes to these mascots, and they are saying immediately stop. Would you support the reasoning of Brown, the tradition of protecting children in this case?

ELDER: The reasoning behind Brown was not about offending people. The reason behind Brown was equal protection, the 14th Amendment, that I have a right as a taxpayer to go to a school in which I'm qualified to go to. That's what that was.

It wasn't about hurting people's feelings. That was a minor part of the whole thing. The major thing was about justice and equal protection under the government.

JONES: I wonder, because we have one of the great jurists of America.

ELDER: Am I a wrong about that? It wasn't about hurting people's feelings. The 14th Amendment.

NORTON: You're absolutely right about the 14th Amendment. But frankly, it was, in the case there is the doll test. It's been controversial. But it obviously...

ELDER: That wasn't what it turned on.

NORTON: It was. But that's not what he asked. You know, he said, if it affected the psychology...

ELDER: Sure he did. He implied -- he implied that -- he implied, he said that the holding was about...

NORTON: If psychologists say that it hurts American Indian children would you still think it should be used was the question.

CUPP: OK. All right. Stay here.

ELDER: If only 11 percent are opposed to the name, I would say 89 percent believe it doesn't hurt people.

CUPP: OK. Stay here, both of you. Next, we're going to try to "Ceasefire." Is there anything you two can agree on?

We also want all of you to weigh in on today's "Fireback" question. Do you think the Washington Redskins should change their name? Tweet yes or no using #Crossfire. We'll have the results after the break.


CUPP: We're back with Eleanor Holmes Norton and Larry Elder. Now it's Van's favorite part of the show. Let's call a "Ceasefire." Is there anything we can agree on? Congresswoman, we'll start with you. NORTON: You know, Larry said something about perhaps we ought to be focusing on the condition of Native Americans themselves. I'd like to agree with him on that.

CUPP: Great.

ELDER: Well, same here. I think when we get involved in trivial issues, like I mentioned the $38,000 bag that Oprah had a problem with, we lose the fact that we have a very high unemployment rate in the black community and high dropouts, and a lot of black men are behind bars. And so I think we ought to focus on what's important.

JONES: Well, good.

CUPP: I think we agree, as well.

JONES: Yes, I think we agree. I do think -- I do think that symbols are important. Nobody wants to see the flag burned or the Bible burned. So symbols are important.

NORTON: And a lot more people are watching this show because we're talking about this issue.

JONES: Now, you just stabbed me, as well.

But I do hope -- I do hope this is the first conversation about Native American issues, not the last.

CUPP: I agree. There's a lot of work that needs to be done in those communities, and unfortunately, we don't give enough attention to those problems.

JONES: That's exactly right.

Now listen, if you want to continue to be a part of this conversation, you can go to Facebook or Twitter to weigh in on our "Fireback" question. And it's simply this: "Do you think the Washington Redskins should change their name?" Now right now, 41 percent of you said yes and 59 percent of you say no. So the debate is going to continue online. It's going to continue across the country.

CUPP: Oh, yes.

JONES: Or you can go to as well as Facebook and Twitter to weigh in.

From the left, I'm Van Jones.

CUPP: From the right, I'm S.E. Cupp. Join us Monday for another edition of CROSSFIRE.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.