Skip to main content

NFL may throw flag on N-word, but what about the 'R-word'?

By Simon Moya-Smith
updated 2:39 PM EST, Wed February 26, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Simon Moya-Smith: Why is it bad to use the N-word but OK to call an NFL team the R-word?
  • The NFL may institute a 15-yard penalty for any player using derogatory racial language
  • Moya-Smith: Names such as the Washington Redskins or the Cleveland Indians are wrong

Editor's note: Simon Moya-Smith is a citizen of the Oglala Lakota Nation and a writer living in New York City. He has a master's from the Columbia University School of Journalism. You can follow him on Twitter @Simonmoyasmith.

(CNN) -- This week, the elite owners of the National Football League are considering instituting a 15-yard penalty for any NFL player caught using the N-word on the field.

Noble gesture? Sure. Clueless? Absolutely.

Why is it bad to demean a player of African descent, but the pejorative "Redskins" is still just fine for use as the name of the Washington football team? Makes no sense.

As a Native American, a citizen of the Oglala Lakota Nation and someone who participates in the Native American community and doesn't just claim to be Native American because I have a picture somewhere of a great-grandma who had high cheekbones, I wonder: Hey NFL, why aren't you just as pissed about the R-word?

Simon Moya-Smith
Simon Moya-Smith

I'm not black, and although I find the N-word repugnant and wrong, I'm not here to rage about it. I'm here, in fact, to make a point.

Throughout the last NFL season, Native Americans diligently and consistently worked to remind the conscientious objector (not the bigot -- you can't get much into the brain of a bigot) that Redskin is a racial slur. And we, the descendants of those who survived the Founding Fathers and westward expansion and Christian boarding schools, will not sit idly by as opulent white men tell us that the R-word isn't an epithet and that it's part of their tradition.

Lawmakers step into Washington Redskins name fray

Don't mistake me here, folks. Privilege in sports isn't just white. I encounter African-Americans in Redskins garb and Latinos in Cleveland Indians jerseys.

In fact, this was the case last week on the D train here in New York City when, in a moment, I had enough of it all and encountered a tall black man with headphones on his ears and a Redskins lid on his skull.

NFL prospect: God told me to leave
Congress to NFL: Change 'Redskins' name
New pressure on Redskins to change name

He was standing, and I was standing. We faced each other, backs to the sliding doors, and I remember staring and glaring at his hat, then at his eyes, then up again to his cap. It wasn't long, maybe just one stop, before he ripped his headphones off and asked me if I had a problem.

"With your hat," I said. "So, yeah, I do."

He paused for a quick second and seemed a bit perplexed by my response. He probably thought I was a mad fan of a different team -- the kind of person who fights in stadium parking lots with beer in his gut and hate in his heart for any insolent denizen who dares don the logo of the visiting team.

"What a privilege," I continued, "to be able to walk into a subway and not have to see someone wearing a hat with the stereotypical likeness of your people on it and a racist pejorative to accompany the image."

Opinion: Redskins needs to change

And it gets better. I was on a Canadian radio show recently discussing the utter vulgarity of the R-word when a caller said to me, "You know, it's so trivial. It's just a word. ..."

"But isn't 'colored' just a word, too?" I barked. "Would you be so audacious as to make the same argument to an African-American about that word?" I waited for a loathsome rebuttal, but I all I got in return was dead Canadian air.

So, if you're still curious "what makes the red man red?" (Thanks again, Disney's "Peter Pan"), all you have to do is go to New York City and see the bevy of Christopher Columbus statues, and then go to Ohio and see the wiggy white men painted in red-face at the Cleveland Indians game and then end up back in Landover, Maryland, where the white and black and brown Washington Redskins taunt you, and then still ask: "What's the big deal?"

Here's the big deal. It's wrong.

I recently asked my Native elder in the West about what he thinks of the term. He said, "I'm not red ... I'm pissed." And so am I -- because if you're not pissed, you're not paying attention.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook.com/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Simon Moya-Smith.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 8:21 AM EDT, Mon September 1, 2014
Carlos Moreno says atheists, a sizable fraction of Americans, deserve representation in Congress.
updated 12:25 PM EDT, Sun August 31, 2014
Julian Zelizer says Democrats and unions have a long history of mutual support that's on the decline. But in a time of income inequality they need each other more than ever
updated 12:23 AM EDT, Sun August 31, 2014
William McRaven
Peter Bergen says Admiral William McRaven leaves the military with a legacy of strategic thinking about special operations
updated 12:11 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Leon Aron says the U.S. and Europe can help get Russia out of Ukraine by helping Ukraine win its just war, sharing defense technologies and intelligence
updated 1:24 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Timothy Stanley the report on widespread child abuse in a British town reveals an institutional betrayal by police, social services and politicians. Negligent officials must face justice
updated 9:06 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say a new video of an American suicide bomber shows how Turkey's militant networks are key to jihadists' movement into Syria and Iraq. Turkey must stem the flow
updated 11:54 AM EDT, Mon September 1, 2014
Whitney Barkley says many for-profit colleges deceive students, charge exorbitant tuitions and make false promises
updated 10:34 AM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Mark O'Mara says the time has come to decide whether we really want police empowered to shoot those they believe are 'fleeing felons'
updated 10:32 AM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Bill Frelick says a tool of rights workers is 'naming and shaming,' ensuring accountability for human rights crimes in conflicts. But what if wrongdoers know no shame?
updated 10:43 PM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Jay Parini says, no, a little girl shouldn't fire an Uzi, but none of should have easy access to guns: The Second Amendment was not written to give us such a 'right,' no matter what the NRA says
updated 1:22 PM EDT, Sat August 30, 2014
Terra Ziporyn Snider says many adolescents suffer chronic sleep deprivation, which can indeed lead to safety problems. Would starting school an hour later be so wrong?
updated 9:30 AM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Peggy Drexler says after all the celebrity divorces, it's tempting to ask the question. But there are still considerable benefits to getting hitched
updated 2:49 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
The death of Douglas McAuthur McCain, the first American killed fighting for ISIS, highlights the pull of Syria's war for Western jihadists, writes Peter Bergen.
updated 6:42 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Former ambassador to Syria Robert Ford says the West should be helping moderates in the Syrian armed opposition end the al-Assad regime and form a government to focus on driving ISIS out
updated 9:21 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says a great country does not deport thousands of vulnerable, unaccompanied minors who fled in fear for their lives
updated 9:19 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Robert McIntyre says Congress is the culprit for letting Burger King pay lower taxes after merging with Tim Hortons.
updated 7:35 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Wesley Clark says the U.S. can offer support to its Islamic friends in the region most threatened by ISIS, but it can't fight their war
updated 4:53 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
America's painful struggle with racism has often brought great satisfaction to the country's rivals, critics, and foes. The killing of Michael Brown and its tumultuous aftermath has been a bonanza.
updated 3:19 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Rick Martin says the death of Robin Williams brought back memories of his own battle facing down depression as a young man
updated 11:58 AM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
David Perry asks: What's the best way for police officers to handle people with psychiatric disabilities?
updated 3:50 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Julian Zelizer says it's not crazy to think Mitt Romney would be able to end up at the top of the GOP ticket in 2016
updated 4:52 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Roxanne Jones and her girlfriends would cheer from the sidelines for the boys playing Little League. But they really wanted to play. Now Mo'ne Davis shows the world that girls really can throw.
updated 5:04 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Kimberly Norwood is a black mom who lives in an affluent neighborhood not far from Ferguson, but she has the same fears for her children as people in that troubled town do
updated 5:45 PM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
It apparently has worked for France, say Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider, but carries uncomfortable risks. When it comes to kidnappings, nations face grim options.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT