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Commentary: Why do we tolerate Redskins?

Jason Collins, of course, turned into the big sports story of the week when he came out as the first openly gay active player in any of the four major North American sports leagues.

The journeyman NBA center became an instant inspiration to many who had never heard of him, even if many of his new supporters and the media went overboard on this story. (Jackie Robinson? Not quite.)

Fact is, to most of the country in 2013, particularly those around 40 or younger, a homosexual pro athlete isn't a big deal.

Had this been 1963 or 1983 the reaction would likely have been much different. But we become a more tolerant and accepting society every year and those who discriminate against or defame do so at their own risk.

Kobe Bryant was fined $100,000 last year for using a gay slur, just a small illustration of the way that we no longer tolerate offensive terms for any group of people.

Well, almost any group.

An Associated Press poll this week found that 79 percent of America is perfectly fine with Washington's football team being called the Redskins.

Hard to imagine that we're still marginalizing any group of people by turning them into mascots for sports teams. But at least a case can be made that a nickname like "Braves" honors Native Americans.

"Redskins" was, is and always will be a derogatory term that's nearly universally considered offensive.

Derogatory, offensive terms, of course, remain in some use even in this more enlightened age. For African-Americans. For Latinos. For Asians. For the mentally challenged. For homosexuals. For just about any group.

But none of those are used as sports team nicknames.

For good reason. Try substituting insults for any of the above groups in place of "Redskins." How does it sound?

Regardless of the results of this week's poll, sentiment does seem to be shifting, at least among those who don't sing "Hail to the Redskins."

According to the AP, the mayor of Washington thinks the name should be changed, and a group of Native American petitioners has argued the team shouldn't have federal trademark protection.

The AP quoted Kevin Gover, director of the National Museum of the American Indian as saying "redskin" is "the equivalent of the n-word" and former U.S. Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, a Native American, as saying "Redskins" is much worse than other nicknames because of its origins and its use in connection with bounties on Indians.

Still, the team, its owner and the vast majority of its fans claim they don't think Redskins is offensive. The guess here is that the name will never be changed unless and until the franchise is forced to change it.

This cause needs its own trailblazing hero, someone with stature and clout. An NFL commissioner who says teams with offensive nicknames will have a smaller salary cap than other teams. A television executive who vows that no team with such a name will be allowed on his network. A superstar player who promises never to don the burgundy and gold until there's a name change.

Seems pretty unlikely. But the idea of an openly gay NBA player seemed pretty unlikely, too, not that long ago.

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