CNN Anchor Don Lemon: 'Redskin' Is the New 'N-Word'

June 20th, 2014 7:39 AM

The debate over whether the National Football League team in the District of Columbia should change its name from the Washington Redskins to something “less offensive” was the subject when CNN Newsroom weekend anchor Don Lemon was a guest during The Tom Joyner Radio Show on Thursday.

Lemon started his commentary by talking about “bad words, words that you shouldn't say,” comparing the “N-word” to “the dreaded 'R-word'” as racially offensive terms. However, comedian Kevin Hart disagreed, noting that the only people being called “Redskins” are players on the professional football team.

The discussion began with Lemon referring to “an offensive word that many people hate and think should be banned. Others say 'not so fast,' there’s nothing wrong with using the word, especially when we’re talking about a group of people we hold dear, we like, and we even love.”

“Sounds like I’m talking about the ‘N-word,' which has been debated, discussed and reported countless times, but I'm not,” he stated. “This time, it is the dreaded ‘R-word.’ I'm talking about Redskins, as in the Washington football team.

“For years now, there has been a push to force the team to change that name,” Lemon continued. “Some fans -- and of course, Native Americans -- find the term racially offensive. Others say it is just the name of the team. Lighten up. It's a tradition.”

He also stated:

Just this week, the United States Patent and Trademark Office stripped the team of its trademark protection, calling the team's name “disparaging to Native Americans,” and that means the team still gets a profit from the word, but it will shrink because others can now legally use it to sell products and/or merchandise.

It's a small victory for those who wanted the name outright banned because it doesn't mean the team has to relinquish the name. The owner [Dan Snyder] has vowed that he wouldn't. He said: "I'm not getting rid of that name. It's a tradition."

Lemon then turned his attention to the history and origin of the word, quoting from the Oxford Dictionary: “The first recorded use of the word was in the late 17th century in reference to the Algonquin people, one of the largest Native American groups.

“Originally, the term was not a reference to their skin color, but the color of the face and body paint they used in ritual traditions,” but according to Oxford, “'Redskin' lost its neutral, accurate description and since has become a disparaging word.”

“So 'Redskin,' 'Red Man' and 'Red Indian' were all used by Brits and Americans to distinguish between Indians from India and so-called Indians or Native Americans,” the CNN host noted. “It's very similar to the way 'Negro' became the pejorative 'n-i-g-g-e-r' to distinguish between Africans living in Africa from Africans living in the United States.

“Either way you cut it, no matter the origin of a word, if over time it has become a slur, a dig or an insult, should you use it, even if it is the name of your favorite team?” Lemon asked. “My personal opinion is no, but I want you to decide. At the very least, though, before you defend using it, you should probably know where it came from and what it means.”

Comedian Kevin Hart, who was on the show with Lemon, responded that he has never used the term “redskin” against anyone, and doubted that anyone has been called that in the same way the “N-word” has been used against African-Americans.

“Who has ever been called a 'redskin' other than a member of the team?” he asked. “Is it fair to compare that with being called the 'N-word?'

“Nobody uses that word in a way that's insulting, but it is used in celebrating,” the comedian stated, “especially fans of the team. Whether they win or lose, we love the Redskins!”

As NewsBusters previously reported, George Marshall -- the owner of the team that was then called the Boston Braves --  chose the name to honor coach William “Lone Star” Dietz, who was purportedly of Native American descent.

Also on Thursday, Joe Scarborough -- co-host of MSNBC's Morning Joe program -- listened to a clip of Nevada Democrat Harry Reid on the Senate floor proclaiming his disgust for the Redskins name. Scarborough then wondered aloud if the majority leader had ever been to a game.

However, fellow MSNBC host Joy Reid warned viewers that people on her show might use the “racial slur” when describing the team.

Polls have consistently shown that most people -- including Native Americans -- are happy with the team's name, except liberal Democrats and MSNBC anchors who are trying to stir up a controversy regarding the “R-word.”