With great popularity comes great responsibility… or something like that.
For whatever reason, the NFL seems to be a mainstream battleground for social debate fairly constantly these days, and this offseason seems to really be amassing the headlines of this nature. Whether it be the wrongful termination accusations of Chris Kluwe, the domestic abuse case with Ray Rice, the draft placement of Michael Sam, the double standard that exists between player and owner conduct, or the offensive nickname of one football franchise.
As far as I can remember, I have never once written about that last topic, as the Washington Redskins nickname is not really Vikings related and this is a Vikings blog. Minnesota Congresswoman Betty McCollum found an intelligent way to raise awareness of the issue in Minnesota, however, and dropped a call for action squarely at the feet of Vikings owner Zygi Wilf.
The full text of her letter to Zygi Wilf, as transcribed here, reads as follows:
Dear Mr. Wilf:
Yesterday, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office ruled to cancel legal protections for the trademarked name of the National Football League’s Washington franchise because it is “disparaging to Native Americans.” The time for debate has ended – the name of the Washington franchise is clearly an offensive racial slur. I urge you, as an NFL team owner, to not remain silent on this matter any longer.
Thirty-one NFL franchises split the sales of their licensed merchandise equally. As you well know, when a shirt, cap, or jersey bearing the Washington team name is sold, the Minnesota Vikings share in the profit from that sale. After yesterday’s decision, NFL owners must now ask themselves if they want to continue to profit from a name so hurtful to our Native American brothers and sisters that the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office deemed it ineligible for federal protection. By taking a stand to change the mascot, you can send a very clear message to Native Americans and all Americans that your organization no longer wishes to benefit from the commercialization of that hateful slur.
In November, the Minnesota Vikings are scheduled to host the Washington franchise for a game on the University of Minnesota campus at TCF Bank Stadium. As the Vikings will be a co-host with the University on their campus, I would like to remind you of three facts. First, Minnesota has a strong Native American community and TCF Bank Stadium honors that community with a plaza recognizing each of our tribal nations. In addition, one of those tribal nations, the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux, contributed to the funding of this stadium. Lastly, the presence of the Washington franchise with their racist name on the University of Minnesota campus would be in violation of the Board of Regents’ Equity, Diversity, Equal Opportunity, and Affirmative Action Policy.
Mr. Wilf, I believe you are a man of integrity. Therefore I am calling upon you to publicly demonstrate leadership on behalf of your organization and the people of Minnesota by adding your voice to the millions of Americans who are calling for this racist mascot to be changed and for Native Americans to be treated with respect and dignity by the NFL. A strong condemnation of the Washington franchise’s name by the Minnesota Vikings Football Club will go a long way towards helping to change the mascot.
Today’s society is addicted to instant gratification and I think it is important to let tradition have a chance to stay intact before progression forever changes an entire institution. However, when that tradition is profit generating racism, I’m not sure there is a very solid argument to make on it’s behalf. Congresswoman McCollum has, in fact, made a pretty good argument against the Wilf Family standing idle on the subject.
I am curious to hear Mr. Wilf’s response to the letter, if there ever is one, but I am also wanting to get your opinion on the topic. Vote below and hash it out in the comments section.