I wasn't born when Jackie Robinson broke the color line and was just a baby when Ali fought for social change, but not long after that, I knew a bigoted backhand to the face when I felt it.
All the anger and resentment that raged inside me was justified because some team had the insensitivity and audacity to call itself the All Blacks.
What the hell? Where's Jesse on this? When's the picket line forming? At what time do we complain and demand change, like, right here and now? Those were the thoughts of a hot-tempered teenager until someone politely pointed out the team was based in New Zealand.
"And what's that got to do with it?"
"The name comes from the team's primary color. Uniform color, like the Raiders. Adopted by the country as a sense of pride."
"The mascot is a fern. A leaf."
"Nothing racial about it."
"Oh, OK. Never mind." (Looks at the ground, hopes to be swallowed up.)
Strange how we're so quick to react emotionally and righteously when something is offensive to us, or in that embarrassing case of overreaction, perceived to be offensive. But when it's possibly offensive to others, we don't get too worked up about it. Maybe that's human nature. I always thought racism, for example, would disappear like tomorrow if every single person was equally outraged, not just the offended group. Seriously: If the entire workforce walked off the job in protest because a black person or woman was discriminated against, wouldn't that be powerful and effective? I know, fat chance of that ever happening.
I thought about my dumb-kid reaction to the All Blacks when the subject of the Redskins was raised recently in Washington. An advocate group held a symposium to discuss sports nicknames and said the Redskins declined an invitation to appear. The group, naturally, attacked certain names as insensitive. Word soon spread and the topic lit up social media for a minute. Based on the response, most people weren't offended, and based purely on a guess, most weren't Native Americans. They were Redskins fans, dammit, along with the anti-PC crowd, all out in force. They were offended that anyone would be offended by Redskins. Imagine that.
The furor, if that's what it was, will die pretty quickly, if it hasn't already. Every few years this happens. Somebody brings up Redskins or the Cleveland Indians or Atlanta Braves, it gets play on radio or elsewhere on a slow news day, then football or baseball season starts and the subject is dropped. Atlanta goes back to chopping, Cleveland fans strap on their Chief Wahoo caps and Washington hails the Redskins. There's no groundswell of support from politicians or influential people to force a name change, and definitely not from the teams themselves, mainly because it affects a small, powerless minority with a voice that whispers. And in the case of the Seminole Tribe in Florida, which long ago gave its blessing to Florida State, there's a (bought and sold?) pledge of support.
You see, that's the problem, and why Washington and Cleveland and Atlanta won't have a name-change anytime soon, if ever. There's a tiny portion of Native Americans who are highly pissed about their heritage being lampooned in the name of "honor," but the rest of us? A few well-meaning screamers, for sure. That's it. Everyone else seems mildly annoyed -- or not bothered at all. The attitude is: Hey, that's their deal, not mine.
What's interesting is the lack of passion from African-Americans. Usually in situations where minorities feel shortchanged, there's a sense of togetherness, a call for unity, if you will. But not in Washington, a city that's 70 percent black and obsessed with football. Even though the team was once owned by an admitted racist five decades ago, and grudgingly became the last NFL team to integrate, there's a loyal sea of black people who, based on their overall silence on the issue and support of the team, are cool with the status quo. Would this change if Washington became the Blackskins and switched the logo to something more Afro-centric?
Also, the Redskins players have never lashed out at the name, though it's hardly surprising that players won't bite the chief that feeds them.
At least this latest round of discussion got the Redskins involved. Usually, teams don't enter that arena. They wisely keep quiet and wait for things to blow over. The Redskins took the unusual step yesterday of posting a statement on their website, starting by quoting a high school athletic director saying his team is "very proud to be called Redskins."
Yes, the brave Washington Redskins armed themselves by hiding behind "70 different high schools in 25 states" that use the same nickname, sort of a take-that defense, daring anyone who objects to feel bad about picking on poor old high school kids as well.
Look, have to be honest here. I'm not going to pretend I'm shaking in anger as I write this. Maybe I should. But that's not the case. My true outrage is saved for gun violence, crime, high unemployment, insufficient public school education, stupid political games and the wait at the post office on Friday. The name "Redskins" is far down the list, although it does make the list. Nobody can say it's not offensive to call someone out based on skin color, regardless of context. That is, unless they're using a common name to describe the thumb of someone who loves to garden. Or a cute reindeer.
Changing the name would be harmless. It might upset the anti-PC crowd. It might cost Dan Snyder a few million, but so what? He has many millions. What it wouldn't do is change the way fans look at the team. They'll still root for Robert Griffin III if he plays for the Pigskins, and if they win, will buy lots of snouts at the team store and Snyder will get his money back.
Or, here's a compromise. Snyder and Washington can keep the name Redskins. Just change the imagery, because really, just like the All Blacks, it's all about the intent. Remove that gray area, once and for all. Take Native Americans out of the picture completely. No more spears and feathers. Use someone or something else with bright red skin, maybe a demon, or perhaps the devil, admittedly at the risk of upsetting the religious right.
Or just go with a really angry guy, with his game face on, turning a few shades darker, bloody veins popping, ready for battle on Sunday ... on second thought, maybe not. Tom Coughlin as the new Redskins mascot -- now that would cause hell in Washington. That happens when a large group is offended.