Bringing political correctness to a league that is not politically correct


One of the lead stories in sports this week is the denial of the appeal for the Washington Redskins as they fight the decision to void their trademark. Because of this, there is no criminal offense to companies duplicating the Redskins’ logo and selling merchandise fashioned like the team. The primary issue is the Redskins name – a name they have had throughout the team’s history — and whether that name is offensive.

Opinions on the issue are split, some thinking the team name is the equivalent of a racial slur, others feeling the name honors the people who founded the team and should remain. Many feel the name issue with the Redskins is a way to attempt to make the NFL politically correct.

League of controversy

The NFL has many rules and regulations that players and personnel are expected to follow or face fines and suspensions. Many of the rules and regulations are set due to contractual obligations with sponsors and agreements that the league has made with the media for access. One famous standoff to date involved Seattle Seahawks offensive phenom, the now-retired Marshawn Lynch.

Lynch’s discomfort with speaking to the press after games led to tens of thousands of dollars of fines from the NFL for not making himself available for post-game press conferences. Many felt Lynch’s obstinacy with the media was a dereliction of his contractual obligations to the NFL, standoffish to the media and politically incorrect. Many others, however, felt it was inappropriate for the media to attempt to make someone speak when they aren’t interested in talking.

Lynch famously entered Media Day at Super Bowl XLIX and answered every question asked of him by the press with the words, “I’m here so I won’t get fined.” The following day, he answered questions with, “You know why I’m here.” The only media members he gave interviews to were Deion Sanders, former-teammate-turned-analyst Michael Robinson and Michael Silver. Even though his actions created controversy, Lynch’s public image was not affected.

Political correctness vs. freedom of speech

The NFL has a longstanding partnership with the military and repeatedly hosts events and ceremonies honoring our troops and their service. Recently, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick created a large amount of controversy by taking a knee during the national anthem. Kaepernick took this action to protest the social injustices he feels have not been addressed by a legal system that has disproportionately affected minorities.

While his form of protest was not meant as a slight at the armed forces, the gesture was taken that way by many people. The expectation was that the NFL would do something to stop or penalize Kaepernick for refusing to stand during the national anthem, but the NFL did not act. As the news of his protest gained press coverage, other teammates across the league began to participate in similar acts of protest and created a storm of media coverage. Where many people disagree with his protest, many groups stand by Kaepernick’s gesture, including many veterans who created the hashtag #VeteransforKaep to provide support for his cause.

Family friendly?

As the NFL has begun attempting to label itself as more family-friendly with campaigns like “Football is Family,” it has started running information spots during games asking fans to curb offensive behaviors. One spot asks that fans stop using profane language during football games. When the commercial runs, you can hear loyal NFL fans exclaim “EFF THAT,” while the commercial explains this is in defiance of the spot’s objective.

As much as curbing profane language at football games would make the environment friendlier, it’s hard to expect that a game historically fueled by masculinity and alcohol will instantaneously become G-rated. The league still deals with situations such as at the Philadelphia Eagles’ and Oakland Raiders’ games (known as the “Meanest Fanbases in the NFL”), where an Eagles’ fan stole someone’s prosthetic leg during a tailgate. It is probably better judgment to advise people unfamiliar with the atmosphere about some of the crazy things they might see at an NFL game versus setting the expectation that the NFL has become instantaneously politically correct.

As the NFL moves toward a more family-friendly platform, it’s a safe assumption it will continue to ask fans to exhibit behaviors that promote that environment. But if a string of F-bombs flies out after a game-defining interception, I think it’s probably best to give the person the benefit of the doubt and let it slide.

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