In light of polling data confirming what we already knew–that the vast majority of NFL fans, players, and Americans want the Washington Redskins to keep their name–ESPN is doubling and tripling down on the network’s thinly-veiled political crusade to force owner Daniel Snyder’s hand.
The advocacy program Outside the Lines‘s documentary on the nickname controversy serves as the latest salvo in the network’s war on the Redskins. In conjunction with the Tuesday-night broadcast, ESPN.com featured five, yes five, anti-Redskins editorials by ESPN staff members as part of the very story that talks about the polls. Talk about disrespecting your own customers.
For his part, Snyder has said definitively, and repeatedly, that he will never even consider doing away with the name “Redskins.” And why should he? When he bought the franchise, now the third most valuable in the NFL, he paid dearly for the trademark and all of the decades of loyalty and tradition that went with it. This is not like asking the Houston Texans or Tennessee Titans to jettison a name that’s relatively new and certainly not a storied part of history. The name “Redskins” is part of NFL lore–the kind of tradition that predates televised games and even the iconic John Facenda-narrated highlight films of old.
And whether or not someone likes the way Snyder runs the team–and few people do–this issue is about property rights and whether or not political correctness practiced by a tiny minority should be able to wipe out a citizen’s equity and damage a citizen’s legally owned business. It is also an issue of how doctrinaire liberals insert politics into every aspect of our lives. Millions of Americans use sports and entertainment as avenues of escape, and yet, politics plays as a dominant force in both. As for ESPN, if it’s not the Redskins, it’s the campaign to celebrate openly gay athletes in the NBA and the NFL, or to push for the unionization of college athletes, or to fill the screen with Obama and the NCAA brackets, or mentioning that the hosts of Pardon The Interruption (maybe their best show, ironically) play golf with Obama–and in general managing to slip Obama’s name into all kinds of stories that have nothing to do with Obama.
ESPN is at times becoming a creepy statist network, kind of like media outlets you would see run by the government in a dictatorship.
So why is ESPN doing this? Several factors play into it, not the least of which is that the sports media is just as, if not more, reflexively liberal than the news media. Keep in mind, Keith Olbermann entered the world of political media off of a successful career at ESPN and Fox Sports, and he’s as childishly liberal as anyone in cable history. And remember the deliberate move to take something Rush Limbaugh said about Donovan McNabb totally out of context as an excuse to fire him just a few days into an experimental contract on an NFL pregame show? Liberalism is central to the identities of the vast majority of these people. (How Rush missed that ahead of time is still a mystery.)
Another factor is the youth of the ESPN staff. Many of them talk about their craft as if sports began when they were born and became relevant only when they began commenting on it. They have no perspective of, let alone respect for, long-held traditions. They’ve vaguely heard something about “the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field” or the great Redskins-Cowboys rivalry or Roger Staubach or Earl Campbell and the Houston Oilers–but these ancient myths are just textureless academic exercises to the thirtysomethings who have been deemed hip enough to anchor Sports Center.
Combine this institutional immaturity with the typical media ignorance of how business and the free market works, and you have the perfect conditions for sophomoric sophistry on issues such as the Redskins, or Michael Sam, or the quirky eccentricities of Augusta National, or the impact of bowl committees in the pre-BCS years, etc. Young idealists tend to think they have all the answers and the peevishness to demand the answers they want right now.
To be fair, ESPN has been visionary and excellent for decades in becoming the most powerful single entity in all of sports–more influential than any league, any team, any organization, and certainly more than any other network. That is to their credit. With prolonged excellence, however, often comes profound arrogance–enough arrogance, apparently, to tell 71% of your audience that they are insensitive racist bigots for liking the name “Redskins.”