When not wrangling copy for the MoJo crew, Ian writes about immigration, sports, and Latin America. His work has appeared in ESPN the Magazine, Wired, and Slate. Got a comment or a tip? Email him: igordon [at] motherjones [dot] com.
In the ongoing debate over the name of Washington's pro football team, folks on both sides have argued about the relative offensiveness of the word "redskin" over time. Team owner Dan Synder insists the R-word is a long-standing term of respect for Native Americans, saying in a letter to season ticket holders that "the name was never a label. It was, and continues to be, a badge of honor." Yet dusting off the old dictionary suggests otherwise.
In the current edition (the 11th) of the best-sellingMerriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary, redskin is defined as an "American Indian"—with the label "usually offensive" added for clarification. But when did that label get added—and how has Merriam-Webster defined the word over time?
According to Peter Sokolowski, a lexicographer and Merriam-Webster editor at large, "redskin" first made its way into an M-W dictionary in 1890, when its unabridged International defined the word in this way:
A common appellation for a North American Indian—so called from the color of their skin.
That was just the beginning. Here's how Merriam-Webster's definition changed subtly over time:
1898: A different line of M-W dictionaries, the Collegiate, adds an important distinction in its first edition:
A North American Indian; —often contemptuous.
1909: The unabridged New International drops the "so called from the color of their skin" from the 1890 edition.
Dan Snyder, the owner of Washington's pro football team, wrote a letter to season ticket holders yesterday to once again defend the franchise's racist name. Snyder, who in May said he'd "never" change the moniker, focused on the team's long history—mentioning three times that it has been in existence for 81 years—and argued that it "was never a label. It was, and continues to be, a badge of honor." He also argued, in a bit of marketing wizardry, that the name "is a symbol of everything we stand for: strength, courage, pride, and respect."
Snyder went beyond lauding the positive symbolism of the [Redacted] brand, though. Like ESPN columnist Rick Reilly before him, Snyder cited a poll from the Annenberg Public Policy Center that found that 90 percent of Native Americans didn't find the team's name offensive. He also pointed to a Richmond Times-Dispatch story in which a writer contacted three Native American tribal leaders in Virginia; none of them was offended by the name.
"I've listened carefully to the commentary and perspectives on all sides, and I respect the feelings of those who are offended by the team name," Snyder wrote. "But I hope such individuals also try to respect what the name means, not only for all of us in the extended Washington Redskins family, but among Native Americans too."
Researchers examine the brain of a dead ex-high school football player who died in his 20s.
Both ESPN the Magazineand Sports Illustrated published excerpts today from Steve Fainaru and Mark Fainaru-Wada's League of Denial, their much-anticipated investigation into the NFL's efforts to downplay football's link to devastating brain trauma. The book, which comes out next Tuesday, takes a look at the Big Tobacco-like tactics the league used over two decades to allay public concerns about concussions and long-term injury.
Here are three ways the Fainaru brothers argue that the NFL attempted to downplay the risks of the game:
1. Cherry-picking data in NFL-sponsored research: At a 2007 concussion summit meant to update new commissioner Roger Goodell, neuropsychologist Bill Barr, who had worked for the New York Jets, blasted the NFL's Mild Traumatic Brain Injury (MTBI) committee for using only select data in a study that concluded that NFL players were quick to recover from concussions:
"I said that the data collection is all biased," Barr said. "And I showed slides of that. Basically I pointed out that we had been obtaining baselines on players for 10 years, and when you look at the study it only included a small amount of data. My calculations were that their published studies only included 15 percent of the available data. Let's put it this way: There were nearly 5,000 baseline studies that had been obtained in that 10-year period. And only 655 were published in the study."
2. Co-opting a reputable journal to publish questionable research: After the creation of the MTBI committee, the NFL used the influential medical journal Neurosurgery (whose editor in chief consulted for the New York Giants and whom "some people around the NFL also considered…something of a jock sniffer") to publish its work:
The league used that journal, which some researchers would come to ridicule as the "Journal of No NFL Concussions," to publish an unprecedented series of papers, several of which were rejected by peer reviewers and editors and later disavowed even by some of their own authors. The papers portrayed NFL players as superhuman and impervious to brain damage. They included such eye-popping assertions as "Professional football players do not sustain frequent repetitive blows to the brain on a regular basis."
3. Blasting independent researchers: After neuropathologist Ann McKee (subject of a terrific 2012 Grantland profile) told reporters in 2009 that the brain of a dead 45-year-old ex-NFL player named Tom McHale looked like that of a 72-year-old former boxer—adding, "I have never seen this disease in the general population, only in these athletes"—she got a call from Ira Casson, co-chair of the MTBI committee, who wanted her to travel to the league's New York City offices to present her work. The meeting was antagonistic:
To many in the room, Casson seemed especially combative. "Casson interrupted the most," said Colonel Jaffee [the national director of the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center]. "He was…at times mocking. These were pretty compelling neuropathological findings, so to outright deny there could be a relationship, I didn't think [Casson] was really making an honest assessment of the evidence."
…McKee had experienced heated debate before, but this, she thought, was almost personal. "I felt like they weren't really listening," she said, "like they had their heads in the sand." Casson, Pellman and others bombarded McKee and Perl with alternative theories: steroids, nutritional supplements, high blood pressure, diabetes. Finally McKee threw up her hands. "You are delusional," she told them.
A PBS Frontline documentary, also called League of Denial, will air Tuesday at 8 p.m. EDT. (It is the result of a yearlong collaboration between ESPN, where the Fainaru brothers work, and Frontline—a joint project that ESPN recently pulled out of, allegedly due to NFL pressure.) Here's the trailer:
ESPN's Rick Reilly—onetime Sports Illustrated great, 11-time National Sportswriter of the Year, and all-time GIF magnet—doesn't think Washington, DC's pro football team should change its name. Why? For starters, there's this 2004 poll, in which 90 percent of Native Americans surveyed said they didn't find the name offensive. On top of that, Reilly reports that his father-in-law, a member of the Blackfeet Nation, doesn't think there's anything wrong with it, and nor do people at three majority American Indian high schools whose sports teams play under the same name.
But there's another reason gnawing at Reilly: He doesn't like that paternalistic white journos are trying to cram change down Americans'—and Native Americans'—throats. As he wrote yesterday:
The 81-year-old Washington Redskins name is falling, and everybody better get out of the way. For the majority of Native Americans who don't care, we'll care for them. For the Native Americans who haven't asked for help, we're glad to give it to them.
Trust us. We know what's best. We'll take this away for your own good, and put up barriers that protect you from ever being harmed again.
Kind of like a reservation.
That's right: Kind of like a reservation. For a thorough takedown of Reilly's argument, take a look at this response by The Nation's Dave Zirin. (We're just glad Reilly didn't write his piece in verse.)
In the meantime, here's a list of folks who have decided to no longer refer to the Washington [Redacted] by name. We'll update it as more publications and journalists sign on.
UPDATE, THURSDAY, OCTOBER 10, 2013: In a column for the Indian Country Today Media Network, Rick Reilly's father-in-law, Bob Burns, says Reilly misquoted him:
You can imagine my dismay when I saw my name and words used to defend the racist Washington Redskins name. My son-in-law, ESPN's Rick Reilly, completely misunderstood the conversation we had, quoting me as saying "the whole issue is so silly. The name just doesn't bother me much. It's an issue that shouldn't be an issue, not with all the problems we've got in this country."
But that’s not what I said.
What I actually said is that "it's silly in this day and age that this should even be a battle -- if the name offends someone, change it."
…Let me be clear: The racial slur "redskins" is not okay with me. It's never going to be okay with me. It's inappropriate, damaging and racist.
In the memory of our Blackfeet relatives, it's time to change the name. That would honor us.
Some were born in the red zone, inheriting teams from their wealthy families. Some are lifetime businessmen who bought a franchise as a midlife vanity project. One is married to a Walmart heiress. Yet on the whole, NFL owners have one thing in common: their relative anonymity.
Here's your chance to take your eyes off Goodell for a sec, and look at the public-financing hogs and brain-trauma deniers occupying luxury suites across America. In the vein of Major League Assholes, we took a stab at matrix-ifying NFL owners based on their political giving and their relative assholery. Look down below the chart to get the skinny on all the owners you love to hate.
Baltimore Ravens: According to the Washington Post, Steve Bisciotti "is, in many ways, a regular guy who happens to be very rich." Like $1.8 billion rich. He sits courtside at University of Maryland basketball games and flies in his buddies on his private jet to join him. Bisciotti made his fortune by founding the country's largest staffing company, Aerotek (now the Allegis Group), which in 2009 settled a class action suit with more than 1,000 former employees who claimed the company didn't pay them for accrued leave time. (Aerotek paid out $1.2 million.)
When Baltimore made the Super Bowl last year, former Ravens coach Brian Billick had this to say of his old boss: "He's a man's man. He'll go drink for drink, cigar for cigar." And, apparently, arm caress for arm caress:
Cincinnati Bengals: The late Paul Brown was one of modern football's major innovators, helping popularize things like the forward pass and sideline play calling. His son, current Bengals owner Mike Brown, has innovated in his own, small way. In the mid-1990s he used the old "I might move the team to Baltimore" line to put Hamilton County, Ohio, on the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars in financing for a new stadium—which he named after dear old dad. (As one county official told the Wall Street Journal, "It's the monster that ate the public sector.") That Brown would ask taxpayers to pick up the tab is no surprise; for years he ran what Sports Illustrated called "the leanest mom-and-pop shop in the league," a nice way of saying that he didn't employ as many scouts as other teams did. More recently, he's been on the cutting edge of making loud-mouthed, uninformed comments about the long-term neurological effects of concussions—even after one of his ex-players, Chris Henry, was found to have degenerative brain damage after his death in a December 2009 car accident.
Cleveland Browns: Truck stop magnate Jimmy Haslam once told a reporter that he'd been approached by the TV show Undercover Boss but had to turn the producers down: Everyone at his multibillion-dollar company, Pilot Flying J, knew the hands-on CEO too well for the premise to work. NFL fans were just starting to know Haslam, who last year gave up his stake in the Pittsburgh Steelers to purchase the Browns for $1 billion, when Pilot Flying J came under federal investigation for allegedly defrauding its customers. Worse, a confidential informant told the FBI that Haslam knew (PDF) it was happening. It wasn't the first time Pilot Flying J had come under legal scrutiny. From the New York Times:
In 2005, the United States Department of Labor announced an agreement in which the company would pay 110 assistant managers $720,000 in back wages and damages to resolve violations of the overtime provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act, according to The News Sentinel. And the company settled price-gouging allegations in three states by paying fines in the wake of Hurricane Ike in 2008.
Denver Broncos: Despite his shrinking role with the Broncos, owner Pat Bowlen still makes a point to reach out to fans—last month, he actually said his team belongs to them. Back in January, he sent season ticket holders apologetic emails following Denver's last-second playoff exit. Whether or not that excuses his greatest sin depends on your point of view.
Houston Texans: According to a 2011 story in ESPN the Magazine, Bob McNair's "game-day mornings probably aren't too different from yours." Right, because you, too, leave your 12,000-plus-square-foot home each day, and head over to your 3,620-square-foot owner's suite at the local stadium. McNair, the NFL's biggest political donor (he's given $4.2 million since 2008, including $2 million last fall to the pro-Mitt Romney super-PAC Restore Our Future and $1 million to Karl Rove's American Crossroads), cleaned up by selling his Cogen Technologies to Enron in 1999—not long before Ken Lay & Co. imploded. Maybe it's that kind of timing that led Cowboys owner Jerry Jones to once call McNair the best owner in football. Meanwhile, his heir apparent, son Cal, enjoys big-game hunting—lions, elephants, leopards, including one he's got stuffed and mounted in his office. The Texans are still hunting for their own big game: They've never made it to the conference championships, let alone the Super Bowl, in their 12-year history.
Don't let Irsay's Twitter antics fool you, though: He's a killer at the negotiating table, as evidenced by Indianapolis' heavily subsidized Lucas Oil Stadium. And he can be quite coherent in person, like when he was asked about Rush Limbaugh's reported bid for the St. Louis Rams: "There are certain privileges for certain things in life that you might want to pursue that may not be appropriate. I myself couldn't be in favor of voting for him." With a few of Irsay's punctuation tweaks, that would easily fit within 140 characters.
Jacksonville Jaguars: In 2011, Shad Khan bought the Jaguars for $770 million, making him the NFL's first ethnic minority owner. The Pakistani-born, Muslim billionaire with the epic facial hair (60 Minutes: "His rakish mustache has become a must-have accessory for any self-respecting Jags fan") wasn't the first choice of some racist Jacksonville fans, but his approval rating reached nearly 80 percent a year and a half ago. Khan got rich as owner of Flex-N-Gate, which manufactures bumpers for Toyota but was cited for nine serious OSHA violations and fined $57,000 in 2012 "for failing to monitor workers' exposure to nickel, chromium, and [hydrochloric] and sulfuric acid." (No word on whether star running back Maurice Jones-Drew is considering his own occupational hazard suit after years of carrying an anemic offense.)
Miami Dolphins: Even though Miami Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria detonated the Miami-Dade budget and turned South Florida against publicly funded stadiums with the debtapalooza known as Marlins Park, Dolphins frontman Stephen Ross didn't let that stop him from trying to get some public dollars of his own. After the cancellation of a special election involving $350 million in proposed stadium renovations, Ross went on the offensive, creating a PAC called Florida Jobs First to campaign against the politicians he believed sunk the project. (One attack ad featured frowning men in hardhats.) But don't worry about Ross: He recently found $200 million to donate to his alma mater, the University of Michigan. In true form, he stipulated that it could only be spent on the athletic department or UM's Stephen M. Ross School of Business.
New England Patriots: Robert Kraft has long been the suited, pocket-squared business face of the so-called Patriot Way. But he slipped back in July, when he insisted that Russian President Vladimir Putin stole his $25,000 Super Bowl ring from 2005—a charge a Kremlin spokesman called "weird." Since then, Kraft has said that the ring was, in fact, a present, and invited Putin to a Patriots home game so the Russian president could present him with a ring Putin was supposedly making for Kraft. That the Patriots owner might bend the truth is no surprise to folks in Hartford, Connecticut, where Kraft had a handshake deal to move the franchise in 1998; turns out it was just a ploy to extract concessions from Massachusetts taxpayers. Even former Connecticut Gov. John Rowland, who was convicted for corruption, got in a dig after the move fell through: "I am a New York Jets fan, now and possibly forever."
New York Jets: Robert Wood Johnson IV, known to all as Woody, is the 66-year-old heir to the Johnson & Johnson fortune. A veteran GOP money man who earned Ranger fundraiser status in the George W. Bush days, he reportedly helped raise $7 million for John McCain in a single night in 2008. Johnson gave in the high five figures during the 2012 cycle—an election he called more important than a Jets winning season. All the while, he has tried to keep a low profile—even in the face of his socialite daughter's 2010 death at age 30. According to "many of Johnson's famous friends," Adam Sternbergh wrote in a New York magazine profile, "he's long been a private wild man…
Jann Wenner might tell you about the time they took a cross-country motorcycle trip with a bunch of dudes (including Michael Douglas), from the Tavern on the Green to the Golden Gate Bridge, and Johnson wore a helmet with fake black hair streaming out the back. Or Mitt Romney might relate the story of how Johnson visited his estate and, when no one else would test a rope-swing into a swimming hole, grabbed the rope and hurtled himself into the drink.
Dunno. Maybe Tim Tebow would consider that stuff wild.
Oakland Raiders: Ranking the NFL's worst owners without Al Davis is like trying to celebrate Christmas without Santa Claus. Al's son, Mark Davis, has been looked to as a breath of fresh air for the franchise, though earlier this year he fired the team's PR director over an article he found unflattering. He has also threatened to move the Raiders to Los Angeles (again) as the team hunts for a new stadium. His latest proposal: Tear down the current stadium and build a new one on the exact same site.
Pittsburgh Steelers: The Rooney family has been involved with the NFL since 1933, when Art Rooney bought the newly minted Pittsburgh Pirates franchise for $2,500—he renamed it the Steelers in 1940. Dan Rooney, Art's oldest son and the current team president, is best known for two things: serving as America's ambassador to Ireland from 2009-2012 and being the driving force behind what's known as the Rooney Rule, which requires teams to interview a minority candidate for every head coach and general manager opening. (Not that it did much good this past offseason: Despite 15 open positions, no black candidates were hired.)
San Diego Chargers: Alex Spanos is a Republican heavy hitter—he hosted a Mitt Romney fundraiser in March 2012, and Rush Limbaugh wrote the foreword to his autobiography (which was titled, oddly enough, Spreading the Wealth). The biggest black mark on his reign is probably keeping team doctor David Chao around for 15 years despite dozens of accusations of malpractice, negligence, personal injury, and fraud—though Spanos' company also had to pay a big settlement after the government sued it for not making apartments accessible to the disabled.
Tennessee Titans: Oilman Bud Adams moved his Houston Oilers into the publicly funded Astrodome in 1965. After 22 years, Adams decided that the ballyhooed stadium wasn't all that wondrous anymore and asked Houston for $67 million in upgrades. When the city balked, he threatened a move to Jacksonville, Florida, which was enough to get him his renovations. Six years later, Adams started kicking the tires on a new dome. Houston rebuffed him, so Adams took his team north to Nashville, whose officials were happy to give him what he wanted. (Eventually, a shiny new stadium was built for an expansion team in Houston—with plenty of public funding.)
Arizona Cardinals: No team has gone longer without a championship than Bill Bidwill's Cardinals; they last won in 1947 when the team shared Chicago with the Bears. And last year, the hapless Cardinals became the first NFL team to lose 700 games all told. Bidwill became known as "Dollar Bill" for his cheapness, amid rumors that he made players buy their own cleats and deducted lunch from their paychecks. Despite his fondness for screaming, Bill's son, team president Michael Bidwill, is viewed more a bit more favorably.
Carolina Panthers: When Jerry Richardson met with his fellow owners during NFL labor negotiations in 2010, he was emphatic about getting a more favorable revenue split with players. According to one witness, Richardson told the other NFL execs, "We signed a [expletive] deal last time, and we're going to stick together and take back our league and [expletive] do something about it." His main argument for holding the line was the unsustainability of it all—an argument Deadspin blew out of the water when it learned that Richardson's Panthers turned a $112 million profit in 2010 and 2011. This year, the tattoo-hating Richardson asked taxpayers to cover about two-thirds of the cost of a proposed stadium renovation. The city of Charlotte decided to kick in some money, but the state refused.
Chicago Bears: Virginia Halas McCaskey and her kin have been taken to task for their poor business acumen. (The Bears are worth only $1.19 billion). McCaskey only ever wanted to be the team's board secretary—a title she still retains—but ended up running the show after her brother died of a heart attack, setting off a public battle over the estate.
Dallas Cowboys: Long lambasted for favoring the Cowboys' brand and massive stadium over the quality of the team (Dallas is .500 since 1997), Jerral "Jerry" Jones is one of the league's most reviled owners, and not just outside of Texas: Last November, fans actually petitioned President Obama to oust the Cowboys' "controlling, delusional, oppressive dictator." If the self-appointed GM can't field a winning team, the least he can do is make sure his gaudy scoreboard doesn't cost Dallas any more touchdowns.
Detroit Lions: Since William Clay Ford bought the Lions in 1963, the team has won only one playoff game. Detroit capped off with the league's first ever 0-16 season in 2008, after which Forbes declared Ford the worst owner in the NFL. His son, at least, thinks things are looking up. They won their first game this season, in any case.
New Orleans Saints: How you feel about billionaire car salesman/investor/Saints owner Tom Benson basically depends on how you feel about an owner using a natural disaster (Hurricane Katrina) to flirt with moving to another city (San Antonio). Eventually, in 2006, he decided to stay in NOLA, a decision that was rewarded three years later by a Super Bowl, state approval of $85 million in Superdome upgrades, and a pretty sweet lease agreement.
In any case, people sure did love the way Benson second-lined on the sidelines…
New York Giants: Called "the first family of football," the Maras have earned plenty of recent goodwill from two Giants Super Bowl wins in the past decade. On the social front, John Marapublicly admitted that the league has forsaken players with brain injuries and other game-related health problems. And in 2001, co-owner Steve Tischcut a video supporting marriage equality in New York.
Philadelphia Eagles: The Eagles' Jeff Lurie retrofitted Philly's Lincoln Financial Field with 80 wind turbines, 2,500 solar panels, and a 7.6-megawatt biodiesel power plant in a greening effort that drew praise from President Obama. Now he just needs to work on his high fives—for the sake of his wife.
St. Louis Rams: Sports Illustrated has called Stan Kroenke"the most powerful man in sports." The Missouri real estate tycoon, who is married to Walmart heiress Ann Walton Kroenke, owns the Rams, the English Premier League's Arsenal, and five other major sports teams with a combined valued of around $4 billion. While the notoriously tight-lipped Kroenke tends to avoid the spotlight, that may become harder to do as the team negotiates a deal for a new stadium. (The Rams' first request, a $700 million monstrosity, was summarily rejected.) Let's hope whatever deal they reach is up to Kroenke's standards—after buying a vineyard, he once dumped $3.3 million worth of cabernet down the drain, deciding it was low-grade.
Seattle Seahawks: In addition to the Seahawks, Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen runs basketball's Portland Trail Blazers, and part of Major League Soccer's Seattle Sounders—at least when he's not busy sniffing out tech investments or taking credit for most of Microsoft's breakthroughs. He's also the NFL's richest owner, valued at $15 billion—which is $10 billion more than the second-richest owner, Stan Kroenke. It can be nice to have an owner whose personal bottom line doesn't hinge on reining in the team's costs. No stranger to vanity projects, Allen donated $1.6 million last year to pass a ballot initiative allowing public charter schools in Washington state.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Longtime corporate raider Malcolm Glazer bought the Buccaneers in 1995. Shortly thereafter, the team was winning games and playing for packed crowds at a brand-new, taxpayer-subsidizedstadium—one that includes a $3 million fake pirate ship. What kind of fan wouldn't want that? A British soccer fan, that's who. Glazer's 2005 takeover of Manchester United sent shock waves through the Premier League, but mostly because of the highly leveraged way he went about doing it.