Category Archives: culture wars

The problem with Native American sports imagery

Outside the Washington Redskins, it’s really not the names.

The Redskins are a special case. Many natives consider the name a racial slur. (Its origin is to tie the team into the Boston Red Sox, when the team moved to Fenway Park in 1933, before moving to Washington.)

Their original owner, George Preston Marshall, didn’t have a black player until 1962. It only happened then because the federal government threatened to terminate the team’s lease on DC (later RFK) Stadium. (Marshall’s statue was removed from outside RFK last month.)

If you spent time in the DC area when from the early 70s until the mid-90s, you couldn’t get away from the Redskins. In a city that turned over a quarter of its population each year, the story goes, the Redskins gave residents something in common.

The brand took on a life of its own as the Redskins became a DC institution. For sports fans who spent time there, the name almost became separate from what it represented. Redskins stopped being a pejorative for Native Americans and became the football team. And that’s part of the problem. Aside from being a slur, the slur–along with the imagery–became a commodity.

If you watched a Redskins-Cowboys game, you’d be sure to see the unofficial mascots, Whistling Ray and Chief Zee. Chief Zee’s actual name was Zema Williams and he started attending games in 1978, wearing an Indian costume and a headdress.

Former Redskins unofficial mascot Chief Zee

That’s where the Redskins join other teams. For me, it’s not calling the teams Chiefs, Braves, Indians, or Blackhawks. It’s the fans, like Chief Zee, who adorn themselves in headdresses. Although Chief Zee didn’t do that, many also used warpaint.

(Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Headdresses and warpaint are considered sacred in many native nations. They’re something elders earn via service and leadership. There are spiritual components associated with them as well. For someone outside the nation to wear them is an insult to those who have earned them.

For a team-sanctioned mascot to wear them and jump around in a mock war dance after a team scored is the equivalent of a Saints’ mascot jumping around the Superdome with a foam scepter and pretend to baptize people with holy water when the Saints score.

Chief Noc a Homa’s teepee at Braves games (discontinued in 1985)

With the Blackhawks, the issue is more nuanced. According to a recent article in The Athletic (subscription required and recommended), the team has worked with local native groups to try to foster an appreciation of the culture.

The team formerly had a close relationship with the American Indian Center (AIC), a local Native American community center. The team’s website includes a history of Black Hawk, the native leader the team is ostensibly named for. The team has also worked with local tribes to present authentic performances and try to educate fans. In general, the relationship seems to be working–the article says fans generally stay away from native garb at the games.

But the AIC, under new leadership, has changed position. They believe that native names and imagery are inappropriate, period. In addition, younger members of the native nations in the Chicago area, are more likely to oppose any native imagery or names.

Florida State has a special case, too. Although the NCAA has pushed against native imagery and nicknames, the school has the Seminole nation’s blessing and input. When you see an FSU student ride out onto the field and thrust a flaming spear into the ground, the nation has okayed that.

FSU student dressed as a Seminole Indian

Even that’s not clear cut, as another larger Seminole nation, this one in Oklahoma, has gone on record as opposing all native imagery and nicknames. They cite studies that show a relationship between the imagery and naming and mental and emotion issues among native children.

The naming isn’t the issue. It’s the cartoonish and disrespectful conduct among fans that come with the names. Frankly, decent people don’t show up loaded to a game and jump around like idiots wearing items that are considered sacred by other culture.

As much as I value tradition in sports, though I won’t push for these naming changes, I won’t oppose them, either.

President Trump’s incompetence and fiddling have screwed us badly

President Trump and Kim Jong Un

“I may stand in front of you in six months and say, ‘Hey, I was wrong.’ I don’t know that I’ll ever admit that, but I’ll find some kind of an excuse.” — President Donald Trump, June 12, 2018, talking about his approach with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un.

That quote reverberated in my mind as I read a Rolling Stone article about the Trump administration’s response to the Covid-19 crisis. The upshot of the piece is that the administration’s culture of hubris, appearance over substance, and blame-shifting is a major contributor in the economic shutdown Trump and his core are currently railing against.

In early March, when he denied a cruise ship permission to dock, the rationale was that he “like[d] the numbers where they are.” Not that risk would increase if the people on the ship were to come ashore. He was concerned about the numbers–about the appearance, rather than the reality.

And as much as Trump will blame the fake news or the failing CDC or whoever else is handy, the President was presented with an aggressive plan on February 24. The plan was withdrawn after his strident opposition to it. Almost to the day Trump finally reversed course and declared a state of emergency, on March 13, the President downplayed the threat, in spite of the fact that the scientific community had been convinced of the threat for weeks. The article says that Trump “waved off months of harrowing intelligence briefings.”

Even the actions that were taken made things worse. When Health and Human Service Secretary Alex Azar declared a public health emergency on January 30, the road private industry had to take in developing a vaccine got more difficult. The emergency declaration meant that the FDA had to approve any tests, which wasn’t the case otherwise. The FDA wasn’t able to do that.

While the FDA head, Dr. Stephen Hahn, had the ability to relax those guidelines, he didn’t do that until February 29. Meanwhile the CDC test, the only option, had problems that kept it from widespread use until February 26 because there were issues with one of the three components of the test.

In short, the administration’s response to this crisis, the most important since World War II, wasn’t coordinated and was driven more by what things might look like than what’s necessary to resolve it quickly.

This blog post scratches the surface of the mismanagement, lack of vision, and incompetence of the administration. Its actions, starting at the top, are a far bigger threat to the economy and the future health of the country and its people than any overreach by Governors Whitmer, Cuomo, and Newsom.

Instead of looking for a solution to move things forward, Trump is doing what he said he’d do–finding excuses. Rather than fixing the issue, something it may be too late to do, he’s too busy roiling his base and creating a massive distraction and finding people outside himself to blame.

Donald Trump is bad for this country, and considering the economic damage being done by his fiddling, it’s not overreach to say it may cost us for decades, if not generations.

Finally, if your response to this piece is that Rolling Stone screwed up the UVa fraternity story, take it someplace else. If you want to counter the facts in the story, that’s fine. But UVa has nothing to do with this story.

Sometimes pop art moves the bar

Thomas Sullivan Magnum IV solved his first case 40 years ago this year, when he shot the drapper smuggler and murderer LaBulle to death in a bathroom at Honolulu Airport.

Magnum stands over LeBulle, played by Robert Loggia

The show hadn’t found its legs yet. Magnum seemed like a bit of a frat boy. Rick ran a nightclub and thought himself a modern-day Rick Blaine. And Higgins was little more than a truculent jerk who hadn’t yet formed a bond with Magnum.

The music was even different (and totally inappropriate).

Any popular show works because the characters and story give you a reason to keep watching. Selleck’s charm carried the show early, but the other characters became indispensible. A key was softening of Higgins, from blustery idiot to surrogate father helping Magnum back from the brink of what was then referred to as delayed stress syndrome (now PTSD).

Thomas Magnum, over the edge

Tom Selleck never served outside a gig in the Army national guard. But Thomas Magnum was a graduate of the Naval Academy. He served as a Navy SEAL, got married in Vietnam and lost his wife–the one love of his life. He was captured, tortured, and watched multiple buddies die. His dark side, buried under Hawaiian shirt, a rubber chicken, and a constant battle with Higgins, never strayed far.

And after a view of the military dominated by M*A*S*H (in which Colonel Flagg made military intelligence an oxymoron), Magnum’s military was flawed but competent. It inefficient, sometimes uncaring, but worth of respect. For 80s television, it captured the balance between what was right and what was wrong about the military.

From what I read, it made a difference to the people who served, both men and women. One episode dealt with the post-war struggles for a former Army nurse, played by the late Marcia Strassman.

Aside from the fact that this show is way too old (40 years? really?) and still awesome, it illustrates important points, even about throwaway pop-culture “art”.

When Magnum debuted, the military–in particular Vietnam veterans–weren’t held in high esteem. As time passed, the group sins faded, too. And the stories of the people became individual and more nuanced.

Magnum helped clear the way for China Beach, and a slew of movies that showed the more nuanced truth.

If that led veterans to appreciate Magnum for showing them as something other than grotesque or cartoonish, then how can we today deny art that does the same for other populations who feel similarly marginalized?

I’m not saying you need to suddenly champion RuPaul, or cheer for the gay characters in any number of shows and movies. You don’t have to binge watch The L-Word or Ellen this weekend. But it is worthwhile to understand why, even if those characters don’t mean anything to you, they might mean something to others.

Intent matters

Because it’s Christma…holid…December, it’s time for the year-end tradition of getting your nose out of joint about things that shouldn’t be things. Merry Christmas v. Happy Holidays. Can we have a manger scene? Should that teacher have told those first graders the truth about Santa? Can we watch Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer? Can we sing Baby It’s Cold Outside?

The last question is a good one to frame the overall discussion. The song was written by in 1944 a man named Frank Loesser to sing at dinner parties with his wife. In 1944, the world was a different place. Women didn’t spend the night–and you can make the argument that this woman wanted to.

But she clearly says no, and has to ask what’s in the drink?

Both of those things are true, and through 2018 eyes, specifically after the #metoo movement, they’re kind of creepy lines.

But in 1944, what’s in this drink? was it’s own kind of in joke. Often there was nothing in the drink. Or just a normal amount of alcohol. But again, this was a time when a woman couldn’t say I want to jump your friggin bones right here on the living room floor as a warm-up exercise for what comes next? And although she says no, the last line of the song is sung in unison, between the woman and the man, indicating ultimate consent.

And yet, it’s 2018. It’s a time when women have to watch their drinks, when a good father tells his daughter (I told my son, too) that if you set down your drink, consider it gone and get another one.

In other words, does intent matter?

Frank Loesser and his wife didn’t intend to sing about date rape. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences didn’t think it was about rape when it was given an Academy Award in 1949. (Ricardo Montalban was one of the people who sang it. I’ll let Star Trek fans dwell on that for a moment.)

But let’s say you got roofied and someone raped you? It wouldn’t be unreasonable for you to feel accutely uncomfortable at the lyrics, in spite of intent.

It’s been 74 years since this song was written. Times change. Norms change. But intent doesn’t change. Frank Loesser’s song is playful and flirtatious. He wasn’t writing about male predatory behavior. To make the song about date rape makes him an apologist for date rape.

Intent matters.

Consider that, please, when someone says either “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays” to you. Consider it when thinking about how awful Rudolph’s story is (it’s just a Christmassy version of X-Men, if you think about it).

It’s a lesson we have to keep in mind during each succeeding round of the culture wars.

Thoughts and Prayers and Utes

My current church isn’t big on complacency. Over the past few months, the pastor has repeatedly called for us to examine what we’re doing, thinking, and spending time and money on–and challenging us about making sure it’s the right thing.

The latest of those challenges came this morning, in a call to have an unshakeable focus on the future, which is to say the utes.

The challenge was to consider strongly investing in the future with our time, talent, and treasure (the vaunted three Ts of pastorship) in supporting this church value, which he has identified as being the most important. Failing that, he’s also challenging us–very directly–to devote our prayers to the utes.

Devoting prayers is something that’s become looked down upon in the mass media most recently. It’s a sign of complacency, they say–and ultimately hypocrisy. If you really cared, you’d stick your worthless prayers where the sun doesn’t shine and freakin do something.

And while we’re at it, Chris, what the hell are you doing for the utes right now, other than throwing money in the basket?

I have in the past volunteered as a Scout leader, baseball coach, umpire, chaperone, and nursery monitor, not to mention driving three-quarters of the distance to the sun to ferry the utes to activities. But right now, I’m doing nothing. And maybe that’s a problem and maybe its not.

So I’m gonna pray about it.

Prayer isn’t a substitute for action, b–

But you just said you’re gonna pray rather than help the chillren.

I thought they were utes.

I like variety.

Whatever. You pray for a lot of reasons. One of them is because it’s all you can do. I have a friend who’s kind of antagonistic to the church. And yet my offers of prayers for her are always warmly accepted. I think they help. I personally believe in a God who loves her–and all the rest of his utes–extravagantly. But I also think they help her. Backed up with care and attention, they make her feel less alone.

Another is for discernment. I’d hope that all the people offering prayers for victims of gun violence, for instance, are also praying for discernment. In spite of the rhetoric from both sides on this issue–“it’s simple, you must agree with me”–this is complex. We do have a second amendment. And if you were to remove all legal guns from their owners, the bloodbath would be unprecedented. On the other hand, does the second amendment cover 30-round clips? Does it mean you get to keep the guns if you’ve had mental problems or domestic violence in your past? That’s just the barest surface of the issues to be worked through.

I’d sure as hell hope that any representative who believes in God is asking for divine guidance in performing his job. And that he’s humble enough to realize that God doesn’t typically agree with people. He’s a bit bigger than that.

So I’ll pray that the youtttthhhhs are taken care of. And I’ll pray that whatever my decision is in terms of involvement, it follows God’s wishes for me.

You may consider this silly, but it’s a free world and it’s the best I can do.

Dear Ted Nugent

Dear Ted Nugent,

I’m a Republican. I have been since my 18th birthday, more years ago than I care to admit. Among other things, I believe in border security, limited government, and freedom of expression. I believe gay people should have the same right to marry as straight people. And I believe that bakeries should be allowed to refuse to make their cakes, then take their chances in the free market.

I also believe in the second amendment.

In the picture below are my children. Only they aren’t children any more.

The woman on the left is Jennifer. She’s been working since sixth grade to make the most of her God-given talents. She was the best student in her International Baccalaureate middle school and the validictorian of her IB high school. She graduated from George Washington University Phi Beta Kappa. She spent a year in the Marhall Islands helping kids learn English. She’s now a doctoral student at UCLA. She wants to be an academic.

Since sixth grade she’s worked harder than anyone I’ve ever known to make her way in the world. I love her more than my words here can convey.

The guy on the left is Daniel. He currently attends Syracuse University. He’s worked hard, too, but in a different way. His life is chaos. He’s always working on something and he’s on track to graduate a year early from school. He’s a little surly sometimes, but he’s quick and witty and has a touch with people I’ll never understand. And I love him differently, but every bit as much.

For reasons I won’t pretend to understand, you went on Alex Jones’s radio show and called for the murder of my children, among other people.

If you were just some random nut case, I’d chalk it up as stupidity and move on. But you aren’t a random nut case. You’re on the Board of Directors of the National Rifle Association. You consider yourself a spokesman for people in the party I’ve always belonged to.

I didn’t vote for Hillary Clinton–a fact that caused strain in my relationship with my daughter for a while. And now a growing part of me wishes I had, because President Trump’s reckless, unpresidential public persona has encouraged people like you to say things like “There are rabid coyotes running around…every time you see one, shoot one.”

In the context of your remarks, you’re referring to Democrats, academics, media, and RINOs (Republicans in name only). I guess under the First Amendment, you have as much right to spout this horrific drivel as the Westboro Baptist Church has to show up and make asses of themselves at high-profile funerals.

But, Mr. Nugent, in your remarks, you called for people to shoot my children, along with approximately half of the rest of the country. Some of those people are very close friends of mine and better people than you could ever consider being.

You can have whatever political positions you want to have. And that’s as it should be.

But if one of your hair-trigger followers even considers harming my children because of your words, the so-called fake media will be the least of your problems. I will make it my avocation to make sure every second of your life–and I truly hope it will be a long one–will be filled with the realization of the effects of your reckless, ill-considered, murdrous words.

These are human beings, not some imaginary vermin you can put out of their misery and out of your mind. These are God’s children you want put down like a rabid dog. And two of them are my children.

I hope common sense will prevail and you will reconsider and denounce your words. Failing that, I hope the NRA will remove you from its board and rescind your membership. And should the worst happen to anyone. I hope the riches that you’ve worked for decades to attain are paid out as a poor, inadequate recompense for the cost of your verbal poison.

The God I believe in will surely forgive you for your words, should you ask it, and I’m happy for that. But my soul and my logic are weak where my children are concerned.


Chris Hamilton

Harvey Weinstein, my daughter, and the evil men do

Harvey Weinstein, it turns out, was a monster. A powerful, vindictive monster who could ruin people who stood in the way of what he wanted. A gaping hole of entitlement who saw other people as less than objects. After all, you take care of a nice car or mansion. A young actress? That’s another matter.

He’s hardly the first. Bill Cosby. Bill O’Reilly. Bill Clinton. Roman Polanski. Lawrence Phillips. Jimmy Savile. Any number of Catholic priests and administrators. People who saw those who were weaker as somehow less than human, to be used and thrown away–and ruined if they pushed back.

It would be shocking if it weren’t so commonplace. Back in the 1980s, when I did radio news, I’d call the local police agencies for any news each evening. The most common news was a middle-aged man–someone about my age–arrested for sex with someone too young to possibly consent.

Over the years, I’ve had a good number of women friends. And during those times, I’ve almost never wondered what they’ve had to go through. I’ve almost never considered that someone might have groped them, demeaned them, bullied them into bed, or even raped them–then enforced silence because of the power differential.

I’ve never let that soak in, never let it influence my view of the world.

And then this.

It’s not just Hollywood. It’s not just the church. It’s not just Roman Polanski and Cybil Shepherd. It’s not just the athlete arrest of the day. It’s not just the creepy-looking guy in the mug shot on the evening news.

It’s probably in my workplace and yours. It’s probably somewhere within a few miles of your house. It’s probably happened to women you know and respect and love.

And as my daughter starts her career, it could be her, too.

Not every man is a potential rapist. Not every man parlays his power into predatory behavior that would shock you. Not every man gropes, coerces, and threatens. But there are enough that it has to make a difference in the way the rest of us look at the world.

This isn’t about politics. It’s not about abortion or birth control or anything of the sort.

It’s about awareness. And it’s about being alert to the ugly secrets almost in plain sight.

It’s about listening and considering and allowing for possibilities you’ve previously dismissed. It’s enough to reconsider how my views and actions–and inactions–might contribute to making things harder for people I admire and care about.

To be clear, I’ve never raped or coerced or threatened. But I’ve dismissed. And in my own ways, I’ve objectified. This isn’t about not being attracted. It’s not about ripping heterosexuality. It’s about how you view other people.

No one deserves to be raped, coerced, and threatened. Not my daughter, wife, or friends. And not yours, either.


What’s really offensive about the Anthem protest…

Let’s say for a minute that every day when you got to work, you had to stand at attention in front of people and take what amounts to a public loyalty oath to your country. A lot of you are saying, “It would be my pleasure to do such a thing. I love this country. I would be proud, unlike those stupid ingrates in the National Football League.”

Okay, I hear you. But let’s change things up a little bit. Let’s say it was a condition of your employment. You okay with that?

Now let’s say it’s a condition of your employment because the Federal government paid your employer in exchange for you and your fellow employees to profess your loyalty. In other words, it’s not a spontaneous expression of respect and appreciation, but a marketing effort by your employer–not to mention a revenue stream.

Until 2009, players weren’t typically on the field for the national anthem. Starting that year, under the Obama Administration, the government started paying not just the NFL, but MLB and other professional leagues. In the grand scheme of things, the amount of money is insignificant. But part of what it pays for is players to be on the field during the anthem.

Suddenly, the anthem isn’t the symbol of national pride. Suddenly, you aren’t honoring America, as the PA announcer always says. Suddenly, you are selling your affection for your country–so your employer gets paid. Your mileage may vary on this one, but to me, this practice is cynical, ridiculous, and more offensive than what happened on the field this weekend.

My patriotism is meaningful to me. It’s not something to be bought and sold, and it sure as hell isn’t something my employer should count on as a revenue stream.

President Trump ill-conceived tirade against anthem protesters

It all started when Colin Kaepernick decided not to stand for the National Anthem in protest for police brutality against blacks. Kaepernick, it should be added, didn’t vote in the election and showed up for practice wearing socks that depicted police as pigs.

A few players here and there followed suit last season and into this season. Four players even demanded that the NFL set aside the month of November–typically used to honor the military, more or less–as a month to promote social activism.

To be clear, Kaepernick, who is currently unemployed, has every right to wear pig socks and sit down during the anthem if he chooses to do so. The NFL has every right to employ him or not. The fans have every right to vote with their wallets, as they seem to be doing, based on ratings and attendance figures.

This is what it is to be an American. People are going to push ideas you think are horrible and you’re going to push back that they’re wrong.

And then the President weighed in. He said to a crowd at a Senate campaign rally “wouldn’t you love to see one of these owners…say get that son of a bitch off the field now?”

When Roger Goodell pushed back, President Trump took to Twitter saying that the Commissioner was trying to justify “the total disrespect certain players have for this country.”

And now, the league’s players are more unified than ever, and more of them will protest during the anthem than ever. The protest has even spread to baseball as Oakland Athletics catcher Bruce Maxwell took a knee during the anthem.

Again, if the collective bargaining agreement permits it, the players have every right to kneel, sit, or stand for the anthem. And a country that demands a loyalty oath as a pre-condition for employment doesn’t sound like a free country to me.

As this mess swirls around–and threatens to drain even more joy from following professional sports–one thing is clear: by his actions, the President has done more to draw attention to this effort than Colin Kaepernick and his pig socks could ever hope to.

On Being Jemele Hill

If you haven’t been following, Jemele Hill is the high-profile ESPN SportsCenter anchor who set off a firestorm about the Worldwide Leader earlier in the week when she posted on Twitter, essentially calling President Trump and everyone around him white supremacists.

SportsCenter anchor Jemele Hill

It’s true that white supremacists have become much more vocal in during the Trump Administration. It’s also true that the white supremacist movement is vocal and very public in support of Donald Trump. But taken as a whole, I don’t agree with Ms. Hill’s tweets.

Then again, I’m not Jemele Hill.

We can argue all we want over specific instances like Michael Brown and Tamir Rice and Philando Castile, but it’s lunacy to suggest that racism is dead. It’s lunacy to ignore people hanging Obama in effigy from trees or showing up at a Wisconsin football game as Obama being lynched.

This actually happened at a Uninversity of Wisconsin football game.

It’s unfair to ignore the responses that almost certainly came Ms. Hill’s way after the tweets and maybe even before. I couldn’t find specifics, but haters gonna hate and when you’re a woman and a black, that hate comes wrapped in racism and misogyny. After all, it’s less than a year since a West Virginia mayor had to resign for agreeing with a Facebook post that called Michelle Obama an ape in high heels.

Put quite simply, if you were to experience life as Jemele Hill’s experienced it, you might see the world the way she does.

That’s something we’re all to eager to forget in our hyper-judgemental world. It’s inappropriate to pass judgement on someone based on four 140-character tweets.

Quite a while ago, then-President Bill Clinton called for a national conversation on race. At the time, I interpreted that as a call for white people and conservatives to shut up and acknowledge everything thrown at them about racism. I’m not sure my view on that particular initiative has changed.

Not a conversation

But the fact is, we need to have conversations. True conversations. We need to understand why Jemele Hill feels the way she does. And we also need to understand what’s driving some of the opposition to Ms. Hill.

It isn’t enough to say that racism is a problem and if you don’t fully agree, you are the problem. And it isn’t enough to ignore the problem and pretend anyone who makes noise about it is the problem.

Listening is enough. Trying to imagine what it’s like for the person you disagree with is enough. Trying to reach across the divide and love anyway is enough.