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Palin's Redskins Rant: Using a Political Football to Silence a People

Right-wing political pundits need to stop mischaracterizing the debate over the Redskins name. Because what they are really doing is silencing Natives
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Sarah Palin took to Facebook on Friday to deliver her thoughts on the Washington Redskins, spurred to action by Mike Ditka and Rush Limbaugh. Predictably, the former Alaska Governor's musings turn political almost immediately. "When the Politically Correct Police bust Ditka, they hope the silent majority will cower under leftist control," she says, adding that "the liberal media’s made-up controversies divide our country."

Palin repeats Rush Limbaugh's assertion that Ditka's statements on the team name might get him suspended from his ESPN gig, which is a rumor we are not hearing from anyone other than Rush Limbaugh. Palin's version, though, is worse than that of Limbaugh (who does actually know a thing or two about how to lose an ESPN football job): She says "Coach Ditka may actually get fired for exercising America’s First Amendment."

RELATED:ESPN’s Mike Ditka "Admires" Snyder; Calls Redskins Opponents "Idiots"

Losing a job because you say something your employer finds inappropriate has nothing to do with the First Amendment. But Sarah Palin has a history of not understanding the First Amendment.

But casually waving the Constitution at the news of the day has everything to do with Palin's thesis, which is that changing the name of a football team is an assault on American values. Specifically a liberal assault, aided by the U.S. government. "The government’s intent to force any owner of anything, in this case an NFL entity, to change a name is the antithesis of the American way of working through differences," she says.

Doesn't it seem like something has been lost here? Weren't we talking about a mascot? How did we get on the topic of the "government's intent to force" whatever-she-is-talking about?

It is on the one hand standard talk-radio claptrap. Take any news story and frame it as us-versus-them. In a total coincidence, the politicized issue is known as a "political football."

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RELATED:Why Is the Redskins Name a Political Issue?

But Dave Zirin, sports editor for The Nation, exposes something much, much worse in "The Assassinating of Native American Voices by the Cowards Palin, Ditka and Snyder." Yes, it's a provocative title, but there's truth to it.

Redskins owner Dan Snyder has set the tone by insisting that American Indians don't dislike, or don't care about, his football team's name. It's logical that Snyder would say this because he doesn't want to change his team's name. Snyder is a businessman and a sports guy. Ditka is a sports guy who's evidently listened to a little bit of talk radio, so when he defends Snyder's position with typical sports-fan "It's an honor/tradition" arguments, he adds the grim prediction that "We’re going to let the liberals of the world run this world." Ditka continues, "Change the name? That's ridiculous. Change the Constitution? We got people trying to do that, too, and they're doing a pretty good job." 

Anything having to do with liberals running the world by changing the Constitution is red meat for Limbaugh and Palin, who take it upon themselves to help explain, at much greater length and without so much of the sportsy stuff, what Ditka meant.

This is common political theater, but in this particular case, there's a victim: The real Native Americans who don't like the name. When conservatives turn the issue into one that only liberal sportswriters care about due to white guilt, these pundits are simply writing American Indians out of the scene. "For people like Snyder, Palin, and Ditka these [Native American activists] are people who simply do not exist," writes Zirin.

Refusing to acknowledge Native protesters is tremendously insulting, and arguably racist, but Zirin sees it as ammunition: "What Snyder, Palin, and Ditka, don't realize is that they are creating even more motivation amongst a new generation of Native American activists who are sick and tired of being treated as invisible actors."

Zirin includes comments from Jacqueline Keeler, Navajo/Yankton Sioux, of the group Eradicating Offensive Native Mascotry. "This idea that the fight against the mascotting of Native people is something new and led by white folks is ... yet another way of cutting Native people out of the American discourse about things that matter to us," Keeler says. "By reframing the issue this way the Washington NFL team continues to make real, modern Native people to disappear, much as their mascot does. It's a continuation of the extinguishment of the Native voice and the appropriation of our identity and lands."

Zirin says that Snyder will lose the debate because "he keeps arguing with ghosts: these imaginary white liberal politically correct sportswriting phantasms who in his mind are out to get him and his beloved brand. Meanwhile, he refuses to sit down across the table from the very Native Americans who are objecting to this name."