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July 14, 2020

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The National Football League team from Washington is dropping its racist nickname.

Finally.

But before we go and give them too much credit, it’s only fair to ask whether owner Daniel Snyder finally saw the light or if he’s changing the name while gritting his teeth. The words “kicking and screaming” were used on several sports shows Monday when talking about Snyder finally getting with the program.

For starters, let’s be clear: This should have been done way before now. Five years ago, when I was a sports columnist at the Tampa Bay Times, I wrote that the Washington NFL team needed to drop its racist nickname. And it’s not as if this suddenly became a topic five years ago. This has been a topic for decades and Snyder has owned the team for 20 years.

Regrettably, it took the death of George Floyd and the ensuing protests about racial injustice to finally turn the Washington nickname from dismissive conversation to decisive action.

While we should be pleased the name is finally being changed, it appears to have little to do with doing the right thing. In a perspective piece for The Washington Post, Robert McCartney writes that the change likely was driven by finances. After all, Snyder once said the name would NEVER be changed — and he told the reporter who quoted him to use all caps.

So, what happened? McCartney writes, “The timing offers some revealing truths about how social change occurs in America. Snyder reversed himself now because of a burst of pressure from big corporate money. That pressure sprang from the national shift in public opinion on race after the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. It followed nationwide protests focused mainly on police brutality against African Americans rather than issues related to Native Americans.”

McCartney pointed out that FedEx, which owns the naming rights on the stadium where Washington plays, publicly asked for a name change and threatened to pull its signage from the stadium after the upcoming season if the name wasn’t changed. That would have cost Snyder and the team about $45 million. The Post’s Rick Maese notes that the name change could be costly at first, but ultimately could be lucrative.

Yes, it will cost the Washington organization a lot of money — perhaps as much as $10 million initially — to change the name. But, Maese writes, “there’s a prevailing thought that as fans update their wardrobes, shop for Christmas gifts and finally replace jerseys and other Washington … gear, changing the team name ultimately would be a lucrative move for team owner Daniel Snyder.”

The point being is it’s hard to give Snyder too much credit for doing the right thing. After all, the team officially said it was “retiring” the name, as if it was getting a gold watch and a rocking chair or something.

Speaking on ESPN’s “Highly Questionable,” Bomani Jones said, “The producer asked me if we should pat Washington owner Dan Snyder on the back for this when we should have been smacking him upside the head for 20 years for the fact that this took so long. They’re not doing right. They just stopped doing wrong. … This is not simply a matter of we decided to change the name. If it’s the right thing to do to change it then you need to acknowledge the fact that it was wrong and you need to acknowledge why it was wrong. Problem is Snyder has been standing on lies for 20 years to try and say why this name is justified and try to pull out any Native American that he could find so he could say, ‘Hey, this guy says it’s OK, so it must be OK.’ No, man, they get no props for this.”

The White House view

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany speaks during a press briefing at the White House on Monday. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany was asked what President Donald Trump thought about the Washington football team dropping its name, and she said “he believes that the Native American community would be very angry at this.” Seriously, that’s what she said. You can see the clip here.

Trump was not the only one upset with the news that one of the most racist nicknames in sports is going away. Fox News contributor Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor, said on the air, “The whole point of this, it just becomes absurd. Everybody’s trying to be politically correct and not offend anybody. It’s a proud tradition. I think that it was really a tribute to the Native Americans to give them that name and the strong, proud sense they had. And for Dan Snyder, seven years ago, to say, ‘Oh, we’ll never change it,’ and now to sell out and fold because of the pressure, it’s disappointing.”

Meanwhile, what are Native American communities saying? Well, as one example, here was the headline on the story for Indian Country Today:

“Retired! Washington NFL Team Finally Loosens Its Grip”

That doesn’t sound “very angry” or “disappointing.”

Tucker Carlson’s ghouls and trout

Fox News promised Tucker Carlson was going to address the controversy discovered last week when CNN’s Oliver Darcy reported that Carlson’s head writer had long been posting vile and racist rants online.

Carlson addressed it alright — quickly, somewhat defiantly and, for many, unsatisfactorily. Yes, Carlson condemned writer Blake Neff’s horrid remarks, but he also struck a “both sides” balance by warning those who he felt were rejoicing that Neff had lost his job. Neff resigned on Friday.

Neff was not a minor figure on Carlson’s show. Carlson has credited Neff’s influence on the show and Neff, himself, once said that he wrote the first draft on many of Carlson’s monologues. Darcy pointed out how many of Neff’s anonymous comments were the basis of Carlson’s on-air commentaries. Yet, Carlson waited until 45 minutes into Monday’s show before addressing the controversy and, even then, spent only 77 seconds on it.

Carlson said what Neff wrote anonymously was “wrong.”

“We don’t endorse those words,” Carlson said. “They have no connection to the show. It is wrong to attack people for qualities they cannot control. In this country, we judge people for what they do, not for how they were born.”

But, as Media Matters’ Matthew Gertz tweeted, “If you hadn’t read articles about Blake Neff, you have absolutely no idea what he did based on Carlson’s explanation.”

That’s absolutely true. Carlson came nowhere close to pointing out just how awful Neff’s behavior online was.

Then, incredibly, Carlson pivoted and seemed to turn Neff into a victim.

“To the ghouls now beating their chest in triumph at the destruction of a young man,” Carlson said, “that self-righteousness also has its costs. We’re all human. When we pretend we are holy, we are lying. When we pose as blameless in order to hurt other people, we are committing the gravest sin of all and we will be punished for it. There’s no question.”

Neff is out of a job because he commented on posts that used the N-word among his many vile remarks and slurs that were racist, sexist, misogynistic and indefensible. He self-destructed under a wave of inexcusable and hateful attacks on others.

Then, in what came as no surprise, Carlson ended his show by saying he is going trout fishing for four days. He said the trip was “long-planned,” but it follows a pattern of other Fox News hosts who have gone on “vacation” to let controversies die down.

But, you can be assured that Carlson will return next week as if nothing ever happened. His viewers will be fine with it and so too will Fox News.

Strongest comments

MSNBC’s Nicolle Wallace. (Andy Kropa/Invision/AP, File)

MSNBC’s Nicolle Wallace didn’t hold back when criticizing the White House for reports that it is running an oppo research campaign against Dr. Anthony Fauci. An anonymous White House source provided several media outlets with information over the weekend that showed the Trump administration listing times when Fauci allegedly said something that was wrong about the coronavirus, even though many of those remarks are either taken out of context or were said at a time when information about the virus was still unknown.

During an appearance on MSNBC Live, Wallace said she could hardly believe the early reports that the White House was trying to discredit Fauci.

“This man is a jewel, he’s an international treasure, not just a national treasure,” Wallace said. “We run out of ways to describe our outrage and disgust, but we should find new ones. This is a sad and dark and depressing day.”

For the record, during a press conference on Monday, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said there were no issues between Trump and Fauci. However, it also should be noted that Trump retweeted former game show host Chuck Woolery, who said that “everyone” is lying about the coronavirus, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Race and ESPN

(AP Photo/David Kohl, File)

News organizations across the country are facing the hard realities that they’ve failed when it comes to issues of diversity, race and inclusiveness, not only in their staffing, but their coverage — which, you could reasonably argue, go hand in hand. That conversation is now going on at one of the country’s biggest media outlets: ESPN.

In an extensive and well-done piece for The New York Times, Kevin Draper talked to more than two dozen current and former ESPN employees. According to Draper, they “described a company that projected a diverse outward face, but did not have enough Black executives, especially ones with real decision-making power. They said the company did not provide meaningful career paths for Black employees behind the camera and made decisions based on assumptions that its average viewer is an older white man, in spite of its audience trends.”

ESPN president Jimmy Pitaro told Draper that the company was not where it wanted to be on diversity and said, “We cannot have rooms full of just white decision makers. Our execs and employees need to reflect the audience that we are trying to reach.”

Media tidbits

  • LAist Studios — a podcast studio from KPCC/Southern California Public Radio — launched a new podcast Monday called “California City.” The description sounds interesting: “Deep in the Mojave Desert, there is a little town with a big name and a bizarre history: California City. For decades, real estate developers have sold a dream here: if you buy land now, you’ll be rich one day. Thousands of people bought this dream. Many were young couples and hard-working immigrants looking to build a better future. But much of the land they bought is nearly worthless.”
  • I wrote Monday about Mike Golic’s time as a radio host at ESPN coming to a close at the end of the month and that there had been speculation that he will stay with ESPN as a college football analyst. Well, it’s official now. He made the announcement on his show Monday morning.
  • The Washington Post announced Monday that you can now listen to audio versions of all of its stories on the Post app for Android and iOS. In a statement, Post senior product manager Ryan Luu said, “When we first began testing audio articles on our Android app earlier this spring, our thinking was that this feature would appeal to readers during their commutes. We’ve been surprised and pleased to see steady adoption and use over the last month as many people continue to work from home.” The app update is available for download on the App Store, Google Play Store and Amazon App Store.
  • Are you such a fan of the “Today” show that you can watch it 24 hours a day? Well, you’re in luck. “Today All Day” will offer 24 hours of “Today” show programming on Peacock, NBCUniversal’s new streaming service, and Today.com. The programming will focus on what NBC describes as “lighter, news-you-can-use service journalism” such as home activities, crafts, finances and cooking. It launches Wednesday.

Hot type

New York Times media columnist Ben Smith with “While America Looks Away, Autocrats Crack Down on Digital News Sites.”

A legal analyst for the Fox affiliate in Philadelphia says he was fired as a contributor for being “too pro-Black Lives Matter.” Philly Mag’s Ernest Owens has the story.

The Miami Herald’s Kevin G. Hall with the story of Sara Faulkner: “She was a pioneering Coast Guard rescue swimmer. A tsunami of sexual harassment followed.”

The Atlantic’s Jemele Hill, more than a decade ago, made an ill-advised Hitler joke. She writes about that, as well as the NFL player who recently thought he was quoting Hitler, in this superb piece: “The Anti-Semitism We Didn’t See.”

Clarification: This story has been updated to note that Fox News writer Blake Neff commented on posts in which others used the N-word. Originally, it was said that Neff used that word.

Have feedback or a tip? Email Poynter senior media writer Tom Jones at tjones@poynter.org.

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Tom Jones is Poynter’s senior media writer for Poynter.org. He was previously part of the Tampa Bay Times family during three stints over some 30…
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