The Washington Post’s Dan Steinberg made a great catch of a debate between George Will and Charles Krauthammer on Special Report With Bret Baier about one of the hottest issues in sports, whether or not to change the name of the Washington National Football League team. He quotes Krauthammer, whose argument is essentially that it’s just not very hard to stop being a jerk, at length:
“Well, I’m not able to achieve high dudgeon, like Costas, or like my friend George on the other side,” Krauthammer countered. “I’m in low dudgeon over this. I think this is not something that is sort of a matter of principle, and I respect the [Dan] Snyder position. I don’t think there’s any intent of malice, there’s no intent of a slur, and there is 80 years of history. But words have histories of their own, and they evolve. The word Negro, 50 years ago, was the most respected word in referring to an African American. It was used 15 times by Martin Luther King in the I Have a Dream speech. Fifty years later, because of its own history, having to do with Black Power and a complicated history, it’s become a word that is patronizing. You would never say there are 30 Negroes in the U.S. House. You wouldn’t say that.
“In the same way, Redskins has evolved,” Krauthammer continued. “And despite its history, it is now considered a slur. Growing up, I used to use the word gyp. I never knew until I became an adult that it was a shortening of Gypsy. And I didn’t take a poll of Gypsies at that point to see how many are offended. I stopped using it. It’s very easy to do. It has nothing to do with the sensitivities of a mass of people. It has to do with simple, elementary respect. You don’t use that word if you can avoid it.”
One of the things that’s been fascinating about this debate and others like it is the way participants in it often grant the argument that there’s great harm to giving up a name like Washington’s without examining that claim carefully, and the way some assume that tradition in and of itself ought to be respected. Krauthammer’s argument is simple: if something hurts someone else’s feelings, it won’t cost you very much to stop doing or saying the thing that causes pain. It’s a neat inversion of the standard weighting of priorities in the debate, and it makes clear what a minor adjustment it is to retrain yourself to speak a different weigh. If it’s not hard to not be a jerk, the only excuse to insist that you need to keep being a jerk is petulance. Good on Krauthammer for making that clear.