The following excerpt appears in television writer and producer Michael Schur’s new book, How to be perfect: the correct answer to every moral question, now out. The book is a hilarious and thoughtful guide on how to lead a more ethical life.
DANIEL SNYDER BOUGHT the NFL franchise now known as the Washington Commanders in 1999, and they mostly stank, largely due to the fact that Snyder – and I do not use this term lightly – is a deaf person. But beyond the failures on the field that resulted directly from his deafness, and ongoing allegations of outrageous misconduct in the workplace, the defining issue of his tenure was the way he fought tooth and nail against changing the team’s clearly racist nickname. In 2013, after another extremely reasonable call from native groups to recognize the nickname as offensive, Snyder said it:
We will never change the name of the team. As a lifelong Redskins fan, and [sic] I think the Redskins fans understand the great tradition and what it’s about and what it means, so we feel very lucky to just be working on next season. We will never change the name. It’s that simple. NEVER — you can use caps.
Several aspects of this statement are offensive to me. Some of them involve his terrible grammar and syntax, but the most important are related to his apologia, which boils down to: It’s tradition! It’s like it’s always done, so we can not change it. The amount of time something has been done is not in itself a good reason to keep doing it. Taking that standpoint means turning the middle finger to the idea of progress or finding ways to be better people. This means we are active not trying to be better, and worse, we see the non-trying as a virtue. It does not benefit anyone.
Snyder could changes his view naturally; he just did not want to. Now, if he was not powerful and influential, it would not really matter, because he would just be a hobbyist in his living room barking at his TV. But since he is powerful and influential, he became a bottleneck for those who found the nickname problematic; his attitude created fear for any Washington fans in favor of a name change, who then had to find out what they was supposed to do about the tension between their fandom and their belief system.
They love this thing — this team, this uniform, this franchise — and in many cases they like what it represents: bonds between parents and children, fond memories with friends. And yet, for some, the nickname itself also clashes with their understanding of a just and virtuous world, and Snyder is the only guy who can make things better. When he defiantly announced that he would never change — because that’s the way it was always done — his problem became they problem. I found a good explanation for why people take this view from the author Jordan K. Ngubane, author of An African explains apartheid (1963). Here is what Ngubane writes about the reasons why an Afrikaner nationalist can perpetuate Apartheid, even in light of its inherent moral decay:
He sees it as a way of life, a worldview with which he can create for himself the social order according to his design. History is for him a constantly unfolding experience whose real validity lies not so much in being a guide to the future, as in being a justification. When he is pressured to edit it, he is stunned. In his view, it is all tantamount to saying he must renounce the world he has created for himself.
To say “this world is problematic” comes down to saying “I, who helped build this world, am problematic.” For people who have invested deeply how are thingsany change would mean that they are confronted with decisions they have made that have created or sustained the worrying reality.
But what does such a position mean to the rest of us? We do not have to be Washington football fans to understand the problem here, because once again, the chances are high that we all love something that would be easier to love if it were just. . . changed, a little. Come with the times. Adapt.
It could be an older actor whose interviews involve a creepy, retrogressive attitude toward his female costars, or a university that still has a statue of a slave-owning Confederate general in its courtyard, or your Aunt Connie, which is really sweet and gives you a birthday card every year, but also has some worrisome thoughts about Mexicans she shares out loud with you every Thanksgiving. When we realize the leopards causing our moral anxiety will not change their place, then we must make our own decision: Do we continue to support them, or do we cut our emotional and financial ties?
To answer this, we can apply our schools of ethical thinking to Snyder’s actions — to see if he has a leg to stand on — and also to our own action, to see if our support of his team is morally defensible. (For simplicity’s sake, we’ll use Washington’s soccer team to stand up for all these “problematic things we love, that have the ability to change.”)
We start by using a contractualist argument – we’ll see if Snyder’s position is one we can reasonably reject if we all come up with rules for a new society. Can we reasonably reject a principle that allows racist characterization of persecuted people to be used as a team of mascots? Natural. In fact, if Snyder had suggested that rule during one of our contractualist rule-pitching sessions, he would have been ridiculed outright – especially since his defense boils down to it: “I’ve been a fan of this team since I was young, and now I own them, so I can do what I want. ”
Immanuel Kant and Deontology will no longer be indulgent with him. Snyder argues that he can create a world where when someone gets enough money or gains enough influence, he can stop considering the feelings or needs of those who are less privileged. This is the world in which pigs create Animal farmand I do not think George Orwell wrote Animal farm such as a “how to” guide for running a society.
If we apply Aristotle’s ethics of virtue: we are essentially asking how compassionate we should be when it comes to issues that cause people anxiety or pain. Sin excessive compassion can lead to a lack of integrity, or backbone, or something — almost everything in culture is some kind of unclear, but since the name of his team creates such extreme and unnecessary anxiety, and can be so easily changed, I believe Snyder is flawed in consideration of others.
Utilitarianism – which is simply aimed at maximizing pleasure and happiness, and reducing pain – is a little more difficult. When Snyder refused to entertain a name change, he may have a consequentialist leg to stand on. This is, I suppose, possible that if he changed the name, the total pain felt by Washington fans who do not wants it to change will be greater than the indigenous people feel if he chooses to keep it. But are these two pains comparable? Remember, it’s not strict the number of people who feel pain in each of the two different outcomes — that is, the total amount of pain feltand the intensity of that pain, and she duration, amongst other things. For the utilitarian it is better to have a hundred people get paper cuts than for one person to kneel a baseball bat, so there can be significantly more total pain if Snyder keeps the name the same.
But what about the utilitarian argument regarding we, and our fandom? How many “bad” creations do we keep rooting for the team? Some of it depends on what “team support” really means. Do we spend money on tickets and merchandise? Tweet or post our videos in public, and spread the racist logo online? Do we wear a hat or sweater in public where others will see it? It is likely that if our fandom is relatively private, we will not cause so much consequentialist “damage”. Either way, we should just do a gut check here, and ask ourselves if we is okay with the support of a team, in any way, that has a racist nickname.
And look: we may be.
We might be able to think about all of our options and if we consider the whole of what matters to us, we might just get to a point where we can not imagine life without Washington football fandom. What the hell are we doing then? (Author’s note: You’ll have to read the rest of the book to find out.)
There is, of course, a postscript to this discussion: the R * dskins eventually changed their name. In the summer of 2020, while the entire country was grappling with police brutality and putting the Black Lives Matter movement at the forefront of racial injustice, Snyder finally decided to join the rest of us in the twenty-first century and agreed that the nickname is no more. applicable. Of all the ways we can become better people, “drag kicking and screaming” is not ideal, but it does emphasize the importance of simply try. Snyder only shouted a few years ago that he would NEVER change the name of his team. But a lot of people kept trying. They kept arguing, and shamed him lightly, and made their case. And little by little, the Overton window moved. Other teams changed their names. Social justice has crept forward. And finally, the window’s range included something that was once unthinkable.
This story is published exclusively on Men’s health with the permission of Simon & Schuster, Inc.