NFL “Willful Blindness” to Violence Against Women and Indians

“Willful blindness” to violence is how the Washington Post characterized Ray Rice’s suspension for only two games for knocking his fiancee unconscious in an elevator, and for the league’s failure if not refusal to view the easily-secured elevator surveillance tape showing this immensely strong athlete decking the woman.

NFL "Willful Blindness" to Violence Against Women and Indians

Concern about NFL’s willful blindness

But, as some are saying that Roger Goodell’s very job may be on the line over the incident, there should be equal concern about the league’s willful blindness to the violence perpetrated on American Indians by the repeated on-air use of the word “Redskins” – defined as a racial slur; the R-word is for Indians what the N-word is for African Americans –  says public interest law professor John Banzhaf.

Banzhaf has just filed a challenge to the renewal of the broadcast license of one of Dan Snyder’s stations, arguing that the repeated and unnecessary use of a word so often held (and even defined by dictionaries) as a “racial slur” constitutes not only “profanity” – which cannot be broadcast between 6:00 AM and 10:00 PM – but also “hate speech.”

His legal petition, filed with the FCC, cites dozens of studies showing that the repeated and unnecessary use of that racially derogatory word causes real physical harm – beatings, bullying, etc. – to American Indian children.  Yet, says Banzhaf, Goodell and the league have so far been willfully blind to this violence, just as they were willfully blind to the violence against women by the league’s players

NLF must realize that racial slurs are unacceptable

While, a long time ago, some might have through it was acceptable for a man to beat his wife, that clearly is no longer the case, and the NFL is only slowly and painfully coming to realize this. Similarly, while perhaps a long time ago it might have been acceptable to use a racist slur word to refer to a professional football team, that is no longer true, and Goodell and the NFL must recognize this too, says Banzhaf.

As the New York Daily News – no liberal bastion – just put it: “the Redskins name is a throwback to a vanished era of perniciously casual racial attitudes. No new franchise would consider adopting a name based on pigmentation – Whiteskins, Blackskins, Yellowskins or Redskins – today. The time has come to leave the word behind.”

But it’s not just some kind of ephemeral psychic harm which that racist term causes, says Banzhaf, citing dozens of studies showing that it can and does lead to physical violence.  “What is it going to take to stop the league and Goodell to stop being willfully blind to this kind of violence?  Will I have to find a videotape of a young American Indian boy being chased home from school all bloody by bullies calling him ‘Redskin’ before they will do anything,” he asks.

Professor of Public Interest Law
George Washington University Law School,
FAMRI Dr. William Cahan Distinguished Professor,
Fellow, World Technology Network,
Founder, Action on Smoking and Health (ASH)
2000 H Street, NW
Washington, DC 20052, USA
(202) 994-7229 // (703) 527-8418 @profbanzhaf

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