The controversy over the Washington Redskins' name escalated on Monday in a piece from The Onion provocatively titled "Redskins’ Kike Owner Refuses to Change Team’s Offensive Name." The five-sentence story and its anti-Semitic language are so startling that journalists and bloggers aren't even sure how to react.
In its efforts to turn the debate on its head, the piece refers to the Jewish owner of the Washington football team, Daniel Snyder, as a "hook-nosed kike" and "shifty-eyed hebe." (For example: "'The Redskins represent 81 years of great history and tradition, and it’s a source of pride for our fans,' said the hook-nosed kike, stressing that the team’s insulting moniker is 'absolutely not a racial slur by any means.'") Those anti-Semitic words are written in satire, but still, they appear pretty shocking. Which is, of course, the point. Would Snyder really defend the Redskins name if he were Native American? This story fits into other similarly focused attacks on the name that imagine how Redskins supporters like Snyder would feel if the team name were another minority. Consider, for example, the San Francisco Chinamen or the New York Jews, as the National Congress of American Indians did in protest of the Cleveland Indians.
Even so, journalists have been unsure how to discuss the story and whether it crosses the line or not, while still retweeting the story link. "The Onion, well, went there. You know, there," The Atlantic's Matt Schiavenza tweeted. "Damn," Al Jazeera America's Jared Keller wrote, without an opinion on the article's appropriateness. "Hoo-boy," responded BuzzFeed sportswriter Erik Malinowski.
The Onion has certainly gone too far in the past; the faux-outlet deleted and apologized for a tweet calling nine-year-old actress Quvenzhané Wallis the c-word after heavy reader criticism. Still, close readers of The Onion could have seen this coming, as the outlet appears to be taking a consistently anti-Redskins theme now. Earlier in October, it wrote that the team would indeed change its name — from Washington to D.C. And in August, The Onion wrote another story that made the name look awful: "Report: Redskins’ Name Only Offensive If You Think About What It Means."
Opposition to Washington's name has heated up in recent weeks, as prominent sportscaster Bob Costas called the name a "slur," and President Obama suggested that, if he were the owner, he would consider changing the name. The Richmond Free Press decided to stop using the moniker in an editorial on Friday, calling the name "racist and divisive." The name has largely become divided along partisan political lines, (despite some conservative support for changing it) as conservative commentators like Rush Limbaugh decry the anti-Redskins movement as liberal political correctness run amok.
There are many ways to describe The Onion's position on the controversy. Liberal political correctness would not be one of them.