Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Hey Dan Synder, REALLY?!?!

At some point we all have to evolve as individuals, communities, societies and yes professional football teams name and its’ owners. The owner of the NFL Washington Redskins football team Daniel Snyder was quoted by USA Today Sports saying "We will never change the name of the team. As a lifelong R word fan, and I think that the R word fans understand the great tradition and what it's all about and what it means, so we feel pretty fortunate to be just working on next season. We'll never change the name, it's that simple. NEVER — you can use caps."

I say to that -  REALLY?!?! – I’m putting it in caps. Digging in heels and pretending the name is not offensive and a racial slur will not make this issue go away. When I first thought about writing this blog post I was going to provide the history around the r word and that information would serve as the underpinning of why the word should not be used. After careful thought I do not feel it is necessary to go into a history lesson on why we should not use of the word. Today, as we move into 2014 we know it is not okay use the r word… well most of us do anyway. Instead, I would like to examine the history of the Washington Football team as well as the feelings those who are being directly affected  by the team name and that is Native Americans. I feel that the people who the word is directed to have the authority on if it is derogatory and inappropriate for use.  I feel the same about the n word; no one can dictate what is and is not offensive to me about that word. It would not be acceptable for the team to be called the Washington Black N word football team. I see no difference with what is going on here; Native American should have the same say about the r word.I am not sure how many football fans know the “great tradition” from which the Redskins Organization comes from as Daniel Snyder suggest. It may surprise the fans and others that the Washington football team is rooted in intolerance and racism and these themes sadly are continuing today. With the insensitivity and unwillingness to realize times have changed, Mr. Snyder is following in the footsteps of the founder and first owner of his football team George Marshall Preston. 

In 1932, the Washington football team was established and bought by George Marshall Preston. The original name was the Braves and the team started in Boston. A year later the team name was changed to the R word, and moved to Washington, D.C. George Marshall Preston wanted his team to have the excitement and atmosphere similar to college football teams. He arranged for the team to have a band and a team fight song. The team’s fight song Hail to the R word was written in the mid 1930’s by George Marshall Preston’s wife, Corinne Griffith. The words have a very deliberate meaning, uplifting suppression and the celebration of violence. The original words to the Washington fight song were as follows:

Hail to the R word!
Hail Victory!
Braves on the Warpath!
Fight for old Dixie!
Run or pass and score -- we want a lot more!
Scalp 'em, swamp 'em -- We will take 'em big score
Read 'em, weep 'em, touchdown - we want heap more
Fight on, Fight on -- 'Till you have won
Sons of Wash-ing-ton. Rah!, Rah!, Rah!

To put the song in context, think about 1930s’ in the United States. The referencing  to “old Dixie” is significant; it is a reference to “the old south”, the old south of segregation.  The “scalp ‘em, swamp’ em”  line refers violence to Native Americans. In the last line “sons of Washington” is referring to the white sons of Washington.George Marshall Preston was a known racist in the NFL. He refused to draft African-American football players to the team. This changed only when people began to boycott the team and the federal government threatened legal action against his team in the 1960s’. During the team’s early development there were no southern football teams. In fact, George Marshall Preston targeted southerners for his fans base. So, it is not a coincidence that Mr. Preston was not open to drafting African American players.  

Now fast forward to today, as so many are speaking out about the need for Mr. Snyder to change the name of his football team, due to using the r word is derogatory and is indeed a racial slur. He remains on the wrong side of history, refusing to meet with Native American leaders to discuss the issue and to defend his stands to the very people he is disrespecting.  The National Congress of American Indians is opposed to the use of the name. Ray Halbritter the National Representative and CEO Oneida Nation Enterprise is one of many leaders that is taking the charge for change. Mr. Halbritter said on MSNBC referring to the r word “it’s a racist slur and an offensive name”. He went on to say for some Americans “the only contact with Native Americans is through this slur” and it has an impact on the self-esteem of his people. Mr. Halbritter is not alone; many other Native American leaders have spoken out against the name.

I have heard and read comments by many Non-Native Americans stating that the name is not meant to offend anyone. Well, I’m sorry but that response is just not acceptable when we know by Native Americans and their leaders the term is hurtful and demeaning. 

Another Native American leader taking action is Amanda Blackhorse, a Native American Advocate. She has filed a petition with the United States Trademark Trial and Appeal Board. She hopes to cancel the Washington NFL team trademark registrations.
There are many Americans who want to see the name changed. One in particular is President Obama.  When asked about the name change he stated, “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 sizeable group of people, I’d think about changing it,” He also said, "I don't know whether our attachment to a particular name should override the real legitimate concerns that people have about these things.”

As for me, I will no longer use the term again when watching the Washington NFL team play; I will refer to them as Washington. If they play my team, the Chicago Bears it will be the Bears vs. Washington.

I  REALLY hope for the day, a day very soon when Mr. Dan Snyder does the right thing and changes the slur he calls his football team to something more appropriate. 

Watch this video of Native American leaders speaking out on this issue.

Natalie Graves, AM, LCSW

Update - Since I Have Been Away

It has been quite a while since I wrote a blog post, but the time has come to begin posting again. I want to thank those who reached out to me and asked “when is the next post?” your interest in my blog and the topic of social work and sports was and still is very inspiring to me. I thought I would start my first blog post back with an update on what I have been doing and some highlights of my trip to London, England.

As I stated in my last post, I would be traveling through a study abroad program. Taking part in a program abroad was undeniably one of the best experiences of my life, being in London, England when it was preparing to be an Olympic city was something I will never forget. The knowledge and friendship gained will last a lifetime. After my flight arrived, the mode of travel was by bus or train (“The Underground”) and the occasional cab when we went out at night. I must say the public transportation in London will rival any large city’s transportation system here in the United States. We also did a lot of walking I lost some pounds with our daily activities.  We stayed at Roehampton University in their dorms or as the Brits call them ‘flats”.  As far as the food, no notable places to mention sorry to say. I took a day trip to the All England Championships, Wimbledon. I took in the grounds and a tennis match. I can check off eating strawberries and cream from my bucket list. 

It was great to meet others from all over the world that have an interest in sport whether it was sociology, marketing, business, etc. I think we all learned from each other. I was the only social worker in the group as well as one of two African-Americans. Our day was spent with three hour lectures then two to three hour site visits that correlated to that day’s class. Some of the topics covered were Sport, Culture, and Globalization - Globalization Debriefing - Visa Europe and Sport - Sport, Race, & Britishness  and Funding the Olympics. After that day’s requirements were fulfilled we then explored and did sightseeing all over England.

We had quite a bit of assigned reading before we arrived to London. Much of the reading was on the globalization of sport, the business side of sport and on culture and the correlation of sport. This would prove to be the foundation of our learning during lectures.  We worked in small groups and teams of two for many presentations throughout our time in class. I am proud to report my partner and I were runners –up for best presentation! The voting was done by our fellow students. Taking part in this experience left me with memories I will always cherish. Being in the program pushed me in ways I did not think possible. I returned home even more committed to what has really become my life’s work, which is researching and working with athletes from my prospective as a Sports Social Worker. 

Returning home I had two semesters to complete in my Addictions Study Program. I also completed a full-time internship at a methadone clinic where I worked with people recovering from addictions which included heroin. I worked in the capacity as drug counselor. I worked with clients in groups as well as individually. I officially completed the program this past May. Making the decision to pursue education in substance abuse and addictions is a wonderful asset in helping my clients. Having specialized knowledge equips me to be a better clinician.

After I completed my Addictions Program I had the opportunity and privilege to speak at four conferences on the topic of social work and sport. My first speaking engagement was in June at the International Sport and Society Conference here in Chicago. My topic was on the Mental Health Risk Factors of Athletes. This past October I spoke twice at the National Association of Social Workers Illinois Chapter Conference. I was asked to speak at their very first ‘Rapid Confab’ format as well as a full length workshop. Out of seventy-five speakers the NASW choose eight speakers to take part in their two day Rapid Confab event, four speakers in day one and four speakers in day two. I was one of the eight and was the first speaker on day one. My topic was Student-Athletes: A Vulnerable Population. The way it works is the speaker is given 15 minutes to speak on their topic and then the speaker gives the group a question to discuss for 15 minutes, after that, the next speaker will speak for 15 minutes and then give a question until all are four speakers are done. It is a great way to learn about different topics very quickly. The next day of the conference I was scheduled to present my full length workshop on Social Workers’ Role with Student-Athletes. I received a great response from the attendees.  A day later I traveled to Lansing, Michigan to speak at the Michigan School Social Workers Association Conference; two days later I spoke at the Illinois School Social Worker Association Conference. Along with all of that I am working and growing in my private practice.

This past year and a half has been a very busy time for me with research, speaking, writing and building my practice; through these experiences and accomplishments I have grown more focused on achieving the goals I have set for myself. 

So that is what I have been doing.

More stuff to do…

Natalie Graves, AM, LCSW