Just because the outcome appears hopeless does not mean the fight is worthless. The hopeless causes of today are the realized dreams of tomorrow.
So while facing a government shutdown, the possibility of a debt default, a war in Afghanistan, a poison gas crisis with Syria, a nuclear crisis with Iran and North Korea, and the continuing struggle against global terrorism, President Barack Obama has decided to take on a new conflict:
The Washington Redskins. Not the team but the name.
You go, guy. The name is repellant to many Native Americans and has been the object of controversy and lawsuits for decades.
Hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people see nothing wrong with the name, viewing it not as shameful but as a term of admiration and respect.
The current owner of the Redskins, Dan Snyder, is not going to budge, he says, on any demands for a name change. “We’ll never change the name,” Snyder told USA Today in May. “It’s that simple. NEVER — you can use caps.”
President Obama is used to battling “nevers,” however, no matter whether they are in caps or lowercase. (Some said there would NEVER be a black president.)
“If I were the owner of the team and I knew that the name of my team, even if they’ve had a storied history, that was offending a sizable group of people, I’d think about changing it,” Obama told The Associated Press on Saturday.
He said he knows that the team does not mean to offend anyone and that changing the name would be an uphill battle because “people get pretty attached to team names, mascots.”
However, he said, “I don’t know whether our attachment to a particular name should override the real, legitimate concerns that people have about these things.”
Defenders of the name cite polls — some years old and of questionable methodology — that indicate Native Americans just love the name Redskins, and opponents cite polls showing the opposite.
But what difference do polls make on matters of morality? You can’t poll the rightness or wrongness of things.
In July 1974, I went to the small central Illinois town of Pekin, whose high-school football, baseball, hockey, basketball, golf and swimming teams were called the Chinks. At the beginning of every football game, a “Chink” and a “Chinklet” dressed in yellow and black pajamas ran out on the field while someone beat a gong, an act that had been laying them in the aisles for years.
In 1829, the somewhat shaky fingers of Ann Eliza Cromwell had traced around a globe and found that the Chinese capital of Peking (now Beijing) was exactly opposite the town she decided to call Pekin. It isn’t, but by the time anybody discovered this, it was too late to change all the town signs, and nobody cared anyway.
I went to Pekin because a number of Chinese-Americans had flown in to point out politely that the name Chink was a vile insult. The citizens of Pekin were equally polite but shocked. To them, the name was one of admiration, respect and even love. Pat Hagen, a Pekin High graduate, invoked the name of the town’s most famous native son, Senate Minority Leader Everett McKinley Dirksen. “He was born a Chink; he died a Chink. He’s known around the world as a Chink,” Hagen said.
Finally, in 1980 — as time changed, sensitivities grew and many grew weary of the negative publicity — the Pekin school board changed the name of the teams to the Dragons.
In 1972, Stanford University changed the name of its team from the Indians to the Cardinal. In 2007, after decades of controversy and considerable pressure from the NCAA, the University of Illinois retired its mascot, Chief Illiniwek.
Many American teams continue to use Native American names. In Atlanta, fans still use the repellent “tomahawk chop” at baseball games. (Native Americans didn’t use tomahawks to chop people.)
Obama is right about the name Redskins. It is time to retire this insult to Native Americans.
We took a continent from them and gave them disease, alcohol and reservations in return.
At the very least, we can leave them with their dignity.
Roger Simon is Politico’s chief political columnist.