Gibbs, Theismann, Wilbon and James Brown on Redskins Name Debate
WASHINGTON (CBSDC) – The 11th Annual Michael Wilbon and James Brown Celebrity Roast & Golf Classic was a veritable who’s who of sports media, both locally and nationally, making the event a hotbed for discussion of hot-button issues, like for instance, the ongoing debate over the team name of the Washington Redskins.
The debate tends to bring out strong emotions, on whichever side of it people line up, although it’s rare, when asked, a person doesn’t have an opinion on the issue.
That dichotomous nature was on display when WNEW’s Cameron Thompson asked attendees of the event for their personal stance on the issue Thursday, getting reactions on the record from Joe Gibbs, Joe Theismann, Wilbon and JB.
Below are their statements on the Redskins name change debate, which you can either read in print or listen to in the clips below each statement.
“I think one of the best things that I saw on that was that Rick Reilly article that came out here about two or three weeks ago,” Gibbs said. “I think that says it probably the best, and for me, from the time I grew up as a young kid running around the hills of North Carolina, the only football team we could get was the Redskins. So from that point on, everything I’ve known or been a part of has been Redskins. I never ever thought of it as anything negative, but it’s all been a positive and I think that’s what I reflect on when I reflect on the song, the games and everybody being loyal Redskin people.
When asked by Thompson to confirm if he thought it would be wrong to change the team’s name, Gibbs replied, “It would be wrong to change the team’s name.”
“I really don’t, because it’s not something that I would have any control of,” Theismann said. “I can only say this: I played for the Washington Redskins for twelve years. I was very proud to wear that uniform and represent the Native American nations of this country. The American Indians, the Native American Indians of this country mean so much and are such a vital part of our society. I don’t know exactly what’s going to happen. Like I say, it’s out of my control. All I know is when I wore that uniform, I wanted to honor them and make them proud of the job that I did.”
Thompson followed up with Theismann by asking if he remembers any uproar about the name during his playing days.
“There was never any discussion whatsoever that I’m aware of,” Theismann answered. “I mean, we just put our uniform on, went and played football and did the best we could possibly do. Society’s so different today though, and we all understand that. I mean, with social media today and the sensitivities that we see in society today, you certainly understand where people have concerns, but this is one thing that I just don’t have control over, and I made up my mind a long time ago. If I don’t have control over it, I can’t really worry about it. People besides me will make the decision whether or not the name will or should be changed, or will or won’t be dropped. Like I said, I can only talk about when I played and how much I respected and appreciated the opportunity to represent the nations.”
James ‘JB’ Brown:
“It’s personal from the standpoint that I would always err on the side of being sensitive to the group that they’re talking about, if the group is affected,” JB said. “Now I understand that it may not be unanimous in terms of how the Native American population feels, but to me, that’s the driving point. If there is an overwhelming feeling that it is derogatory to them, I’m always going to be sensitive. And let me just be real clear, being an African American, it wasn’t too long ago when they had a number of restaurants called ‘Sambo’s,’ and that was not a very flattering name for people of color – African Americans – so I’m sensitive to it that way. So I think at the end of the day, most business people would want to feel the pulse of the populous out there and how they react to it.”
“The commissioner has disappointed me greatly,” Wilbon began. “Roger Goodell, who grew up part of his time in this community, you can’t make the name out to be some term of endearment. You can say ‘You know what? It’s a great team. It’s had this name, I’m conflicted. People, fans love the name but clearly there’s some objection to the name and this is a dilemma.’ You can say that! Or something like that. You cannot, as Roger Goodell first said a few weeks ago, say it’s essentially a term of endearment, it comes to represent strength and courage. No, it doesn’t. It doesn’t represent any of that. And so I’m disappointed in him for putting that garbage out there, because it doesn’t mean any of those things. It’s not like Braves or Chiefs. It isn’t. It’s a derogatory term. And so you can say ‘Okay, I’m going to leave this up to Dan Snyder. We’re going to work with the team. We’re going to look at this. We’re going to study. We’re going to listen.’ That’s what he said secondarily. He came back with that. That was a counter-punch. Not enough. I expect a commissioner as smart as Roger Goodell, I know Roger. He’s a smart, smart man. Lead.
“I’ve been dealing with this story for thirty-three years as a reporter. It’s hard. There’s no easy answer. But don’t try to whitewash it with ‘It’s a term of these positive things.’ It’s none of those things, and so now you figure out whether you’ve got to do something or nothing. This topic, it seems to have picked up steam. When I was covering this story thirty years ago for the Washington Post, I don’t think five percent of the people in the greater-D.C. area objected to the name ‘Redskins.’ I dont’ think that’s the case anymore. I think it’s more like twenty-five, thirty percent. So how much does that objection grow? How serious does it get? I don’t know. But it’s a topic that’s not going to just be dismissed. It’s got to be paid attention to.”
But when asked by Thompson if he was a yes or a no on wanting the name changed, Wilbon flatly declined to pick a side.
“No, I don’t,” Wilbon said. “Because it’s hard and I don’t have a ready-made answer. I have not been like some of my colleagues, who I admire greatly, Peter King for one, who said ‘I’m not using the term anymore.’ He’s not the only one. Somebody else did that. I don’t know what the solution is. I feel increasingly aware when I write the letters out and say them on the air. I don’t know what that means. The response evolves. And so, I just think that people have to be a little bit more thoughtful than we were twenty-five, thirty years ago.”