Photo by Moran (for more of Moran’s work go to https://unsplash.com/@ymoran)
By Eli Elstein
Happy Monday everyone, it’s another “Enter Your Week With Eli!” This week’s story comes from me, actually. I had the lovely opportunity to talk with people on Twitter about the Washington Football Team’s former racist identity. To be blunt: it sucked. Don’t argue with people on Twitter; everyone thinks they’re the smartest person ever, including myself. This week I’m going to tell you about my situation, why you shouldn’t do what I did, and what you can do instead to have positive conversations about controversial topics in sports.
In response to someone I follow asking if it is alright to wear old Washington football merchandise when supporting the team now, I responded by saying that I will not wear that “disgusting logo ever again.” First of all, those were strong words. I still stand by it, but I should’ve known what was coming. A few people responded by saying that the logo wasn’t disgusting, and instead it was created by a Native American to show a realistic depiction. The argument was that it was honoring members of that tribe instead of treating them as inhuman.
As always, I had more to say. I responded by saying that the “logo and name together are symbols of a culture that sees Native Americans as less than human.” The point I was making was that whether or not the logo is as tasteful as can be, it, along with the horrible former name, represent a culture of racism that you cannot separate them from.
The rest of the conversation was about semantics and got away from the point I was making. This Twitter user seemed to fall into the trap that many football fans fell into during the Colin Kaepernick demonstrations. In that case, Kaep kneeled during the national anthem to let people know that he could not support a nation whose law enforcement officers have consistently murdered black people. Kaep’s demonstration was about systemic racism, and he talked with a military veteran who played in the NFL to make sure his message was clear. Many fans were outraged as they only saw what was on the surface: a man “disrespecting” the flag/anthem they love because it is representative of a country that treats them with human dignity. What they failed to see was that this is not the case for their black counterparts.
These are subjects that we at When The Lights Go Out have covered, and I specifically have talked about quite a bit. It is integral that we continue to have the tough discussions that may be uncomfortable for many.
But, I did it wrong.
My first mistake was responding to people on Twitter. As much as I enjoy social media, it’s not a place that is often safe for sensitive topics. People use their anonymity to express their unfiltered, often venomous thoughts. I should have recognized that before deciding that I would share my opinion.
My next mistake was using strong language to express my feelings. Differing ideas alone can be enough to make some people mad and adding fuel to the fire by saying “disgusting” and calling out specifics was unnecessary.
My last mistake was continuing the conversation. Once the words I said reached someone who felt strongly enough about them to try and refute them, there was no longer a conversation; it turned into an argument. This was the final nail in the coffin.
There is, however, a better way to do it.
Instead of speaking with anger from the onset, craft a statement carefully which allows others to ask questions. Discussions are ultimately more powerful than arguments, and letting people try and understand you is clearly better than telling them they’re wrong. There’s no formula once you begin, but as a guideline, stay respectful. Everyone has their own idea of what’s right that was built through their unique experience. Working to understand what people believe, and why, is the only way to change minds and have effective discussions.
Sports brings in people from different backgrounds and gives them something in common to root for. There are going to be issues that people disagree on, and being respectful while having discussions is paramount. I love the Washington Football Team and I will not stop doing my part to make the organization and fanbase better. I hope you take the time to have these important conversations in your own fandom as well.