Selling Hate to Children: Snyder and the NFL's Problem of Marketing 'Redskin'

Stephen Sonneveld@@S_SonneveldCorrespondent IIIDecember 2, 2013

Screen capture of NFLrushzone.com

The Viacom network's Nicktoons is currently airing a cartoon program in which one of the characters is referred to by his skin color, a word which is also a racial slur.

The McDonald's corporation is currently selling Happy Meal toys based on this program, exposing children to this racist term.

It is absolutely shameful that, in the year 2013, Viacom and McDonald's would participate in any endeavor that endorses racist language and images being marketed to children, but that is exactly what these conglomerates are doing.

The program in question is “NFL Rush Zone,” a Pokemon-type show in which young heroes call upon the energy of NFL team mascots to battle evil.

Screen capture from nflrushzone.com

Of the 30 mascots anthropomorphized in Happy Meal toy form, 12 are animals, three are myths, seven represent professions or titles (Cowboys, Chiefs, Packers, Saints, 49ers, Buccaneers, Steelers), five are abstractions (Patriots, Browns, Raiders, Chargers, Jets), one represents a geographic location (Texans), one represents a race of people unseen since the 11th century (Vikings) and one bastardizes a living, breathing group of human beingsNative Americansthat the NFL singles out for the color of their flesh with the disparaging slur “Redskins.”

The NFL's official website for the program has a bio that names the mascot as “The Redskins Rusher [who] defends not only the Washington Redskins and their Megacorp, but also the capital!”

A visit to the NFL's official online store has a bevy of tie-in merchandise, including a hat for preschoolers emblazoned with the character and official team logo. The sales description proclaims, “Your little Redskins fan can’t get enough NFL football. When he can’t watch a game with the fam, he’s watching Nickelodeon’s NFL Rush Zone.”

Screen capture of NFLshop.com

What is worse, though, is that the online store reveals the name of the “Rusher” is Zeke Red Corn. Yes, apparently the mascot/Rusher itself is an actual Native American.

The Indianapolis Colts mascot becomes a humanoid Colt. The New York Jets' becomes a humanoid with a jetpack. The Redskin becomes a humanoid of a Native American, and I cannot wait for the NFL or Daniel Snyder's damage-control adviser to spin how this is not utterly racist.

The Rushers are supposed to be space aliens that embody the teams, and Zeke Red Corn epitomizes exactly the problem with team owner Daniel Snyder's beloved slur, “Redskin”—the term is not a concept, an animal or a thing; it is a racist word that has been used to demean a group of people since the 1800s.

For more than 80 years, the NFL and Washington owners such as Snyder have had no issue equating Native Americans with animals, myths and abstractions, a distorted world view now being sold to children.

Native Americans continue to protest the slur's usage. They have filed lawsuits against the NFL to rescind the trademark. Journalists, lawmakers and even the President of the United States have urged the NFL to change the name, yet the League refuses.

Native American activists had a “disappointing” meeting with NFL officials in November to discuss the name change, but no accord was reached.

Tellingly, that meeting was precipitated by a gathering of NFL officials to discuss—not changing the name—but how to react to the controversy of people calling for the name to be changed.

It is not enough for the NFL to string along adults with talk of racial sensitivity and understanding, all the while profiting from a racist term, but to actively market this hateful slur to children via the Nicktoons program and various merchandising tie-ins such as the McDonald's Happy Meal is disgusting and only serves to demonstrate that making money off of minstrelsy matters more to the NFL than the concerns of Native peoples.

What of Viacom, though? Here are questions that need to be asked of the media giant:

  • Is it appropriate for Nickelodeon/Viacom to produce a show that demonstrates to children this racial slur is acceptable?
  • What psychological effect will “NFL Rush Zone” have on children viewing a program that equates the image of a Native American man (including the Redskins trademark) alongside those animal, abstract and mythological mascots?
  • What other children's show character on the Viacom networks is delineated by a racial signifier such as Washington Redskin?
  • Is it appropriate to call Nickelodeon characters Dora the Explorer a brownskin or Ray Preston from the “Haunted Hathaways” a blackskin? Why is this instance of calling people “redskin” acceptable?
  • In the year 2013, how does Viacom justify perpetrating a racist term through a children's television program and associated merchandise?

Actually, I posed those very questions to a Viacom representative via email and did not receive a reply.

Nor did I receive a reply from the McDonald's Corporation when I emailed the following questions:

  • How does McDonald's justify selling toys with a racist word to children?
  • How does McDonald's justify partnering with an organization that, in 2013, profits from a racist term?
  • What is McDonald's policy regarding the company's own employees using racist language in the workplace?
  • If it is inappropriate to label an African American McDonald's employee a “blackskin,” why is it acceptable for McDonald's to perpetuate the racist term “redskin?"

It is incongruent to me that Viacom and McDonald's, which both have a strong history of educating or helping children, would be party to any project that singled out a race of people for its skin color, but that is exactly the bed both companies find themselves in with the bitterly petty NFL.

How does one define a racist? When a group of people repeatedly tells someone to stop using a word it considers to be offensive and that person continues to use the word, then that person is racist.

After more than 80 years of caricature and outright refusal to acknowledge the pleas of native and other Americans to change this derogatory term—a term the NFL and its partners bafflingly see fit to market to children—there is only conclusion that can be reached:

The NFL and Daniel Snyder are racist.


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