The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell, 10/14/13, 10:46 PM ET

Rewriting D.C.'s NFL team name

NBC Sportscaster Bob Costas commented on the controversy surrounding the name of Washington's NFL team. Lawrence O'Donnell has more in his latest Rewrite.

Bob Costas: Redskins name is ‘an insult, a slur’

Updated

During halftime of the Sunday Night Football game between the Washington Redskins and the Dallas Cowboys, NBC sportscaster Bob Costas weighed in on the controversy surrounding the Washington football team name. He said the Redskins’ name is an “insult” and a “slur.”

“There is no reason to believe” anyone behind the Redskins team or the NFL organization harbors any prejudice towards Native Americans, Costas said. He compared the Redskins’ name to other NFL teams with politically correct names that “honor, rather than demean” Native Americans, such as the Braves, Chiefs and Warriors.

“But think for a moment about the term ‘Redskins’ and how it truly differs from all the others,” Costas said. “Ask yourself what the equivalent would be if directed toward African-Americans, Hispanics, Asians or members of any other ethnic group. When considered that way, ‘Redskins’ can’t possibly honor a heritage or a noble character trait, nor could it possibly be considered a neutral term. It’s an insult, a slur no matter how benign the present-day intent. It’s fair to say that for a long time now, and certainly in 2013, no offense has been intended but if you take a step back, isn’t it clear to see how offense might legitimately be taken?”

The responses to Costas’ segment were mixed, while some praised the sportscaster for raising important questions about the racial implications of the NFL team’s name and others criticized Costas for taking away from the sporting event to discuss the issue.

Earlier on Sunday, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell told Dallas Cowboys season-ticket holders that he believes Dan Snyder, the owner of the Washington team “wants to do the right thing” when it comes to the name of his team.  On June 12, Goodell defended the Washington team’s name and said the Redskins’ name “stands for strength, courage, pride and respect.”

Last week, Snyder sent a letter from Snyder to his own season-tickets holders saying that all he wanted was to maintain the status quo.

“I respect the opinions of those who disagree,” Snyder wrote in a letter obtained by The Washington Post. ”I want them to know that I do hear them, and I will continue to listen and learn. But we cannot ignore our 81-year history, or the strong feelings of most of our fans as well as Native Americans throughout the country. After 81 years, the team name ‘Redskins’ continues to hold the memories and meaning of where we came from, who we are, and who we want to be in the years to come.”

His viewpoint clearly softened from an interview with USA Today Sports in May, when Snyder said ”We’ll never change the name. It’s that simple. NEVER — you can use caps.”

Bob Costas reminded viewers how a number of teams have changed their names.

“A number of teams, mostly in the college ranks, have changed their names in response to objections. The Stanford Cardinal and the Dartmouth Big Green were each once the Indians. The St. Johns Redmen are now the Red Storm. And the Miami of Ohio Redskins, that’s right Redskins, are now the RedHawks,” Costas said on Sunday.

“The NFL franchise that represents the nation’s capital, has maintained its name.”

On The Dan Patrick radio program Monday morning, Costas asked a question for Dan Snyder. “If you were to walk into a gathering of Native Americans–if you were on a reservation or happened to come across a family of Native Americans in a restaurant, and you began conversing with them–would you feel comfortable referring to them as Redskins?”

“I was asking the audience to consider that even though no offense is intended…isn’t it clear to see how some offense could legitimately be taken? Not necessarily by all Native Americans… but for many, it is,” Costas said on the radio show. “I was just asking the audience to take a step back–they’ve become used to the term Washington Redskins–but think about what it means and what it might mean if you yourself were a Native American.”

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Bob Costas: Redskins name is ‘an insult, a slur’

Updated