Before joining Mother Jones, Matt was a local reporter for the dearly departed Washington Examiner. He has also written for the New York Times, the Washington Post, Chicago Public Radio, and the Times of Trenton.
Current Colorado residents aren't the only ones itching to add more stars to the American flag, even though the process is next to impossible—after obtaining local approval, a breakaway region must also get the okay from its home state's legislature, and then Congress.
Tired of the liberal bent in Denver, officials in the state's rural (and redder) northern region got secession on the ballot. A recent state law that doubled renewable energy requirements for suppliers in rural areas was the "last straw," according to Weld County Commissioner Sean Conway, who told ABC News, "I think [this is] just one more example of the disconnect happening in the state of Colorado…it isn't a Democrat or a Republican thing." If all 11 counties were to secede, the resulting state would have a population of a little more than 350,000—slightly more people than live in Tampa, Florida. Its largest city would be Greeley, whose mayor recently penned a column arguing that, despite widespread perceptions to the contrary, it no longer smells like cattle.
Another rural offshoot, Jefferson would combine some of the northernmost counties of California with some of the southernmost in Oregon to form a new state dedicated to free markets and limited government. Officials in two California counties recently voted in favor of the movement, whose website contains quotes from Thomas Jefferson, John F. Kennedy, and Mahatma Gandhi along with a link to The Jeffersonstheme song. The effort isn't particularly new—Jefferson first tried declaring itself a new state back in 1941, though the attack on Pearl Harbor led activists to abandon the cause.
Nearly 62 percent of Marylanders went for Obama last year, and the state has had only one Republican governor since Spiro Agnew left office in 1969. For residents of the state's more conservative counties, then, it's easy to feel disenfranchised from "the dominant ruling class," as statehood advocate Scott Strzelczyk puts it. And that's left him looking for a way out: "If you think you have a long list of grievances and it's been going on for decades, and you can't get it resolved, ultimately this is what you have to do," Strzelczyk told the Washington Post in September. "Otherwise you are trapped." The so-called Western Maryland Initiative has never been tested at the ballot, and is still in the honeymoon phase of secession planning, which includes designing T-shirts and voting on a state flag.
Not every potential breakaway state is a conservative redoubt in waiting. After the Republican-controlled Legislature passed bills allowing police to arrest and detain someone if there's a "reasonable suspicion" that the suspect is an illegal immigrant and eliminating organ transplant coverage for Medicaid recipients, liberals in southern Pima County circulated a petition for statehood. (With nearly 1 million residents, the county—home to Tucson—is still more populous than six existing US states.) Baja drew support from both sides of the aisle, too: The county Republican chair told the Arizona Daily Star that secession would make him a state GOP leader. "I'm all for a promotion," he said.
Put a GMO label on it (Washington) Both sides have already poured nearly $30 million into Washington's fight over whether to label foods containing genetically modified organisms. While 25 other states have considered similar legislation, the vote could make Washington the first to pass a such a requirement. Poll watchers aren't certain which way this one will go: a KING 5 News survey released two weeks ago showed 45 percent of respondents in favor of GMO labeling and 38 percent opposed, with a full 16 percent pleading uncertainty.
Tax tokers (Colorado)
After Colorado's approval one year ago of a measure to legalize recreational marijuana use, the state now wants pot users to cover the costs of overseeing the new industry. Proposition AA would add a 15 percent excise tax and a 10 percent sales tax to marijuana sales, meant to pay for retail regulation of the drug as well as some school construction. The measure seems likely to pass, having drawn 77 percent support in an April poll. That hasn't stopped proponents of low-tax weed from throwing free joint parties in protest.
Supercharge schooling (Colorado)
This ballot measure would raise taxes by nearly a billion dollars to overhaul education, by increasing teacher pay, charter school funding, and money for early childhood development and English-language programs. The measure has the support of Gov. John Hickenlooper and many prominent state Democrats; opponents include the current Republican state treasurer and the subtly named Coloradans Against Unions Using Kids As Pawns. The initiative's passage hinges on whether voters can stomach the tax increase in a still-rough economy: 44 percent of voters opposed the measure in a September poll; even more people (52 percent) said they would oppose after hearing how much individual tax rates would increase.
Raise the minimum wage (New Jersey)
After a veto from Gov. Chris Christie, New Jerseyans will decide whether or not to raise the minimum wage from $7.25 to $8.25, and set up a system of annual automatic cost-of-living increases. Despite Christie's popularity, 76 percent of state residents—including many registered Republicans—favor the increase, according to a Rutgers University poll from September. California and Minnesota recently passed minimum wage increases of their own, while South Dakota voters will decide one next year.
Screw Atlantic City (New York)
Gambling conglomerates and New York state Democratic leaders, including Gov. Andrew Cuomo, are hoping voters will amend the constitution to allow seven Vegas-style casinos, with four upstate and three in the Big Apple. The initiative comes a year after Maryland's passage of a measure to expand gambling, which drew a record $90 million in campaign spending. New York's fight won't be nearly as expensive—the main committee in favor has raised just north of $2 million, while those opposed have raised almost nothing. (What opponents lack in funds they make up for in sledgehammer stunts.) Still, it's a rare issue that has managed to unite the editorial boards of both the New York Times and the New York Post—both are opposed.
Earlier this week, representatives from the Oneida Nation met with NFL higher-ups in New York City to discuss the Washington pro football team's offensive name—the latest in a series of moves to pressure the franchise to change its name and mascot. After the meeting, Oneida representative Ray Halbritter said, "Believe me, we're not going away."
But with everyone from President Obama to Bob Costas weighing in on the [Redacted], it's worth remembering that this issue didn't start when, earlier this year, owner Dan Snyder said that'd he'd "never" change the name—and that it's not limited to one team. Here are some key moments in the history of racially insensitive sports mascots:
The word "redskin" first appears in a Merriam-Webster dictionary. Eight years later, Webster's Collegiate Dictionary notes that the term is "often contemptuous."
The first incarnation of baseball's Cleveland Indians forms. "There will be no real Indians on the roster, but the name will recall fine traditions," the Cleveland Plain Dealer wrote at the time.
Oorang Dog Kennels owner Walter Lingo founds the Oorang Indians, an NFL team made up entirely of Native Americans and coached by Jim Thorpe. The team's popular halftime shows feature tomahawk-throwing demonstrations and performances from Lingo's prized Airedale terriers.
The Duluth Kelleys pro football team changes its name to the Duluth Eskimos.
The Boston Braves changes its name to the Boston [Redacted]. According to the Boston Herald, "the change was made to avoid confusion with the Braves baseball team and the team that is to be coached by an Indian." (The coach, Lone Star Dietz, might not have been Native American.)
The Zulu Cannibal Giants, an all-black baseball team that played in war paint and grass skirts, barnstorms around the country. Six years later, the Ethiopian Clowns continue the tradition of mixing baseball with comedy to appeal to white audiences.
Stewart Udall, John F. Kennedy's interior secretary, threatens to take away the Washington football team's federally owned home stadium due to owner George Preston Marshall's refusal to sign a black player. Despite support from members of the American Nazi Party, Marshall begrudgingly signs a handful of black players for the 1962 season, making Washington the last team in the NFL to integrate.
The Philadelphia Warriors basketball team moves to San Francisco, changing its Native American caricature logo to a plain headdress. In 1969, the imagery is dropped altogether in favor of a Golden Gate Bridge logo.
The Washington [Redacted] registers its name and logo for trademarks.
St. Bonaventure University drops the name Brown Squaws for its women's teams when, as one former player put it, "a Seneca chief and clan mothers came over from the reservation and asked us to stop using the name, because it meant vagina." Seventeen years later, men's and women's team names are officially changed from the Brown Indians to the Bonnies.
Washington [Redacted] fan Zema Williams, who is African American, begins appearing at home games in a replica headdress. "Chief Zee" becomes an unofficial mascot. "The older people been watching me so long, they don't even say 'Indian,'" Williams told the Washington Post. "They say, 'Injun. There's my Injun.'" He still goes to games in his regalia.
Syracuse University drops its Saltine Warrior mascot—a costumed undergrad—and iconography after Native American students call the character racist and degrading.
The Atlanta Braves retire "Chief Noc-A-Homa," a man in Native American dress who would emerge from a tepee in the left field bleachers to dance after a home run. Levi Walker, a member of the Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians and the last man to play Noc-A-Homa, said the Braves were "overly sensitive about being politically correct."
Washington Post columnist Tony Kornheiser writes that "it's only a matter of time until 'Redskins' is gone." He suggests the team change its name to the Pigskins. (In 2012, a Washington City Paperpoll asks readers to vote for a new team name; "Pigskins" wins with 50 percent of the vote.)
Marquette University and St. John's University both change their Native American mascots. Marquette's Warriors become the Golden Eagles; St. John's Redmen become the Red Storm.
The Redskins unveil a special mascot for the 1995 Pro Bowl. It is quickly retired.
The Miami (Ohio) University Redskins become the RedHawks.
The National Congress of American Indians commissions a poster featuring a Cleveland Indians Chief Wahoo baseball cap alongside those from the (imaginary) New York Jews and San Francisco Chinamen. The ad goes viral in 2013 when the [Redacted] controversy heats up again.
The University of Northern Colorado's satirically named Fighting Whites intramural basketball team uses $100,000 from merchandise sales to create a scholarship fund for minority students.
The NCAA grants Florida State University a waiver to continue using its Seminoles nickname and iconography largely due to support from the Seminole Tribe of Florida, which maintains a friendly relationship with the university.
A leaked Atlanta Braves batting-practice cap features the decades-old "Screaming Savage" logo. After a public outcry, it never makes it to stores.
[Redacted] owner Dan Snyder tells USA Today that he'll never change his team's name: "NEVER—you can use caps." Ten members of Congress, including Native American Tom Cole (R-Okla.), sign a letter urging Snyder to drop the R-word: "Native Americans throughout the country consider the term 'redskin' a racial, derogatory slur akin to the 'N-word.'" NFL commissioner Roger Goodell responds that the team's name is "a unifying force that stands for strength, courage, pride and respect."
A resolution by the Inter-Tribal Council of the Five Civilized Tribes states that "the use of the term 'Redskins' as the name of a franchise is derogatory and racist" and that "the term perpetuates harmful stereotypes, even if it is not intentional, and continues the damaging practice of relegating Native people to the past and as a caricature."
Appearing on a DC sports radio program, Goodell says of the [Redacted] name, "If one person is offended, we have to listen."
Obama tells the Associated Press, "If I were the owner of the team and I knew that there was a name of my team—even if it had a storied history—that was offending a sizable group of people, I'd think about changing it." In a letter to season ticket holders, Snyder insists that the name "was never a label. It was, and continues to be, a badge of honor." And, at the end of the month, the Oneida ask to meet with all 32 NFL owners during Super Bowl week:
As they hit the road in support of their almost-criminally catchy new record, Blowout, Brooklyn punks The So So Glos found out there's a price for success. That price? A broken air conditioner, $500 worth of new tires, and a pair of bedbug outbreaks.
"In the past we would just stay in people's houses," drummer Zach Staggers says. "Now we have money and we stay in hotels, and we get bitten by bedbugs."
Not that they're complaining. With Blowout earning praise from the likes of Rolling Stone and Pitchfork, the band's been claiming more and more converts to its shoutalong live shows and underdog ethos. (Those Mets caps aren't just for show.) "When we made the record, we were trying to commit to tape something that could translate live," guitarist Matt Elkin says. "It has to capture the same live essence."
Brain tissue images, with tau protein in brown. The brain on the left is from a normal subject, the brain in the middle is from a former football player, and the brain on the right is from a former boxer.
League of Denial, a PBS Frontline documentary about the NFL's response (or lack thereof) to concussions and long-term brain injuries among its players, airs tonight. The investigation attempts to hash out what the league really knew about player safety while it downplayed the ill effects the sport has on its athletes. But what exactly are those effects, and what about them made thousands of former players sue the NFL over their injuries?
While the symptoms of a concussion—dizziness, vomiting, memory loss—can be felt immediately, the long-term impacts of repeated brain trauma have been harder to study. Research points to chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, as one of the major outcomes. CTE is caused by a buildup of tau, a protein that strangles brain cells and degenerates brain tissue, which is caused by repetitive brain trauma like the hits football players endure. This leads to depression, increased aggression, lack of impulse control, and eventually dementia, which may not manifest until years or even decades after the brain injuries took place. While CTE can only be definitively identified after a patient dies, a pilot study at the University of California-Los Angeles earlier this year found evidence of tau in five living former NFL players.
Evidence of CTE was found in former linebacker Junior Seau, who committed suicide last year. Seau's son and ex-wife said he had become prone to uncharacteristic mood swings, forgetfulness, and depression. Two other former players—Dave Duerson and Ray Easterling—were also found to have CTE after committing suicide. The condition is not limited to retired players (Cincinatti Bengals receiver Chris Henry was the first active NFL player to have died with trauma-induced brain damage) or even to professionals (the disease was also found in a 21-year-old University of Pennsylvania lineman who committed suicide in 2010).
Repeated brain injuries are also linked to post-traumatic stress disorder and diseases like Parkinson's and Alzheimer's. A 2009 study commissioned by the NFL found that former NFL players had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease or other memory problems 19 times more than the normal rate for men between the ages of 30 and 49. The NFL went on to back away from those findings, though, even as it changed game rules to avoid more dangerous hits and donated money for more brain injury research.
These revelations led to a lawsuit against the NFL that eventually counted more than 4,500 former players among its plaintiffs. In August, the league reached a settlement, agreeing to pay $765 million to fund medical exams, concussion-related compensation, medical research for retired NFL players and their families, and litigation expenses. The lawsuit never reached the discovery phase, meaning the NFL never had to reveal what it did or didn't know about concussions and long-term health effects on players. According to Steve Fainaru and Mark Fainaru-Wada's upcoming book, also titled League of Denial, NFL officials cherry-picked sponsored research, pushed influential medical journal Neurosurgery to publish its work, and antagonized independent researchers who spoke with reporters about the link between football and CTE.
Hundreds of millions of dollars won't make football-related brain injuries—or the NFL's PR headache—go away. Four more former players sued the league and helmet maker Riddell for allegedly hiding information about the dangers of playing. Increased pressure like that, combined with the Fainaru brothers' book and the Frontline documentary, could lead to bigger changes in the NFL, which would likely trickle down to the college, high school, and even Pee Wee levels. The way Americans view their favorite sport is changing, but it remains to be seen whether the sport will change to match.