Calvert  News & Commentary

Racism and Sports Today: From the NBA to the NFL, It’s Bad for Business


By Reed Montague, Sustainability Analyst, Calvert Investment Management, Inc.

Reed Montague, Sustainability AnalystReed Montague

In an unprecedented move Tuesday, the National Basketball Association (NBA), barred Los Angeles Clippers owner, Donald Sterling, for life, fined him $2.5 million, and may force him to sell the team over his racist remarks. 

“The views expressed by Mr. Sterling are deeply offensive and harmful. We stand together in condemning Mr. Sterling’s views”, said NBA Commissioner Adam Silver. They simply have no place in the NBA.” 76% of the League’s players are African-American.

Sterling’s remarks were addressed to a female associate, who was working as his archivist, and were allegedly recorded during a private conversation, where he asked her not to associate with black people, not to bring them to Clippers games and criticized her for posing in photographs with black men, such as Magic Johnson.

The NBA took swift and direct action to stop such racism by the team owner. How do other professional sports teams and their leagues address racism?  What responsibility do team owners have to address such issues? What is both the right thing to do and right for the bottom line?

Professional baseball faced its own issues with Marge Schott, owner of the Cincinnati Reds in the 1990s. Major League Baseball banned her involvement in the team’s day to day operations after offensive and racist remarks.  Three years later she sold her majority stake in the team.

The National Football League (NFL) has also been quick to address player issues but has not addressed recent owner controversies, such as the Washington D.C. football team name.  For example, the Miami Dolphins suspended Ritchie Incognito over his racial harassment of an African-American player in late 2013, while the Philadelphia Eagles suspended Riley Cooper earlier that year after he racially abused a bouncer at concert. 

A campaign led by the Oneida Indian Nation of New York to pressure the Washington D.C. NFL franchise to change its name has to date fallen on the deaf ears of both Daniel Snyder and the NFL.  Although the name Redskins may have originated originally with the Indians themselves, it subsequently became an offensive term that was used in reference to buying scalps or skins of American Indians at trading posts along with furs. Due to the painful historical past associated with such a name, many American Indians find the DC team name deeply offensive and insulting.  Numerous sports reporters and media outlets have called the name a racial slur and have dropped its use altogether.  Several politicians, including President Obama, have called for a name change.  On Tuesday, Education Secretary Arne Duncan, while speaking out against Sterling also noted that it was time for the Washington team name to change.  

Yet, both the NFL and team owner Daniel Snyder insist the name is honorific despite growing opposition.  On Wednesday, Senator Harry Reid of Nevada called on the NFL to follow the NBA’s example and Commissioner Goodell to “remove this hateful term from your league’s vocabulary and rid the league of racism and bigotry. Your fans will support it.” He also blasted Snyder’s efforts to keep the Washington football team name noting, “A tradition of racism is all that name leaves in its wake. I urge Daniel Snyder to do what is morally right.”

As an investor, Calvert cannot influence a privately held team directly, but has been working on these issues through its Indigenous Peoples’ rights criteria for well over a decade including serving as part of an investor coalition pressuring FedEx to address its involvement and responsibility as a major team sponsor. Other investors include the Oneida Trust of the Oneida Tribe of Indians of Wisconsin, Mercy Investment Services, Boston Common, and Trillium Asset Management.  A recent study by Emory professors Tripathi and Lewis found that teams with a native mascot appear to lose millions of dollars in annual revenue each year – at last $1.6 million in the NFL and at least $2.6 million in Major League Baseball – demonstrating that racism doesn’t pay.

Daniel Snyder launched the Washington Redskins Original American Foundation in late March as a way to channel support directly to Indian Country.  While a worthy endeavor, the name continues to generate controversy.  Each time the team name is mentioned in the media and in conversations, Indians continue to be trivialized and are not seen as actual humans, causing psychological harm and implying they are less worthy. Virtually, every single national American Indian organization has come out in opposition, as has the American Psychological Association, because they understand the harm of the existing team name.  In fact, studies show that displays of such mascots harm all of us both individually and collectively, result in lower self-esteem and mood among both Native Indian adolescents and young adults. In addition, Native American mascots increase negative attitudes of non-American Indian individuals towards American Indians. Such effects occur whether or not a Native American mascot is considered offensive.

When pressed on the issue of the team name being offensive to Americans and when the name might change last May, Dan Snyder said, “We’ll never change the name.  It’s that simple.  NEVER – you can use caps.” Yet, if American Indians find the name insulting, why does the NFL keep ducking the issue?  If the people being insulted find it offensive that alone is sufficient reason for change.

Calvert has a long history of working to combat racism and address diversity in corporations. We believe that racism has no place in business or sports and our investments. As long as the Washington D.C. team name is regularly used by both Americans and the media, our society will continue to perpetuate racial names and mascots. Other races are no longer used in stereotypical ways; Native Americans deserve the same respect. It’s time for the NFL and other sports leagues to step up and replace their own offensive team names and mascots.

Reed Montague focuses on Indigenous Peoples' Rights, including offensive mascot images and issues, and on Product Marketing.  She also specializes in the healthcare, media advertising, entertainment, toy and commercial services industries as well as works on a variety of projects that further the company's social responsibility. Ms. Montague previously worked in several other areas at Calvert including executive, social products and policy, marketing, corporate communications, public relations and socially responsible investing, all of which have given her a strong understanding of company business.

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