August 25th, 2014

It's time for a change

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Billy Reed

Executive Editor


It's time for a change
image from ngngsports.com

Only a few days after becoming embroiled in the bitter Washington Redskins nickname debate, Phil Simms will visit a university that has been home to perhaps the most famous Native American athletes since Jim Thorpe was performing wondrous deeds for Carlisle College almost a century ago.

For the past four years, the University of Louisville women’s basketball team has been led by Shoni Schimmel, a Native American who was a consensus All-American pick last season as a senior and now is starring in the WNBA. Her younger sister, Jude, figures to be a starter on this season’s team.

Everywhere the Cardinals played, including their home court at the KFC Yum! Center in downtown Louisville, the crowds were sprinkled with Native Americans, many of whom drove hundreds of miles just to see the women play in person. It was a heart-warming story that led to an ESPN special and profiles in national publications.

The Schimmels didn’t allow themselves to be drawn into the controversy about whether it was time for teams such as the Redskins, the Cleveland Indians, the Atlanta Braves, and the Florida State Seminoles to change their nicknames and/or mascots because they’re racist and offensive to many Native Americans.

But Simms, the lead NFL analyst for CBS, didn’t duck when the issue again reared its ugly head last week. Redskins owner Daniel Snyder pretty much repeated what he told USA Today in a 2013 interview: “We’ll never change the name. It’s that simple. NEVER — you can use caps.”

When this was brought up in an interview, Simms said he probably would simply refer to the team as “Washington.” He said he wasn’t taking sides, only trying to be respectful to Native Americans. Another analyst, Tony Dungy of ESPN, came to the same conclusion.

Immediately, it became a big story. The knuckleheads who want to keep the nickname said Simms and Dungy were only caving in to pressure from the political-correctness police. But ESPN’s Keith Olbermann, an outspoken critic of continued used of the nickname, said that Simms’ reaction could be the “tipping point” that finally forces Snyder to back down and make the change.

So it’s against this backdrop that Simms will appear with yours truly in U of L’s Comstock Theater at 7 p.m. Wednesday to kick off the new “Conversations with Champions” program that’s designed to use important figures from the sports world to promote integrity, ethics and good sportsmanship. (For more information, please go to Conversationswithchampions.com).

The event will be a homecoming of sorts for Simms, who grew up in Louisville. Although he’s Catholic, he played high school football at Southern, a public school, and was good enough to earn a scholarship to Morehead State, where he blossomed into a prospect interesting enough to become the New York Giants’ first-round pick (seventh overall) in the 1979 draft.

Suffice it to say that Giants fans were not exactly happy with the selection of this unknown from Kentucky. In fact, they booed lustily when then-commissioner Pete Rozelle announced Simms’ selection. But Giants coach Bill Parcells knew a winner when he saw one, and he was vindicated when Simms led the Giants to victory in the 1987 Super Bowl, completing an astounding 22 of 25 passes, then a Super Bowl record for completion percentage.

After 14 seasons, all with the Giants, Simms retired and became a broadcaster, first with ESPN. From there he went to NBC and then, eventually, CBS.

Over the years, he has built a lot of credibility with coaches, players and fans because of his knowledge of the game, his considered opinions and his professional demeanor.

While some of his colleagues — most notably Mike Ditka — have agreed with Snyder about keeping the Redskins nickname, most have straddled the fence, probably for fear of offending the NFL owners. In fact, Jim Nantz, who works alongside Simms as play-by-play announcer, said he would continue to use the nickname and not take sides.

Personally, I think it’s way past time for the nicknames to go, not to mention the mascots, the logos and the inane tomahawk-chop chants that are so popular at Florida State and the Atlanta Braves’ baseball games. No team should have a nickname that refers to skin color, race or ethnicity. I would throw religion in there, except I have no objection to the California Angels.

It’s silly for a team based in our nation’s political capital to not be politically correct, and it’s not as if there aren’t a lot of options out there. The major league baseball team from Washington is the “Nationals.” The football team could be the “Do Nothings” or the “Foot Draggers” or the “Filibusterers.”

I jest, of course. But what’s wrong with the Washington Freedom? Or the Washington Defenders? Or the Washington Diplomats? Anything except Wildcats, Tigers, Lions or Bulldogs. Heaven only knows, we have enough of those.

Simms and Jude Schimmel probably won’t cross paths when he visits the U of L campus Wednesday. That’s too bad because maybe she could tell him of how it feels to be the object of the racial epithets that sometimes pop up, like weeds, among all the cheers. To understand a problem, as a wise chief once said, it’s sometimes necessary to walk a mile in another person’s moccasins. 

 

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