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Washington Football and "Slap Ya Mama": the NFL's Double Standard on Potentially Offensive Names

Slap Ya Mama

Slap Ya Mama, a company specializing in Cajun spices located in southern Louisiana, was advertising with the Saints’ preseason broadcasts with something called the “Slap Ya Mama Red Zone.”

Until this week, that is, as the league changed its policy on the virtual advertisements used in local broadcasts.

Slap Ya Mama’s communique said the company’s advertising representative — Walker & Sons Inc. — received an email from Cox Media Louisiana Director of Sales Marc Leunissen informing them that “in light of the domestic violence issues facing the NFL, (the league) instructed CST (to) pull the Slap Ya Mama logo from our enhancements in the last (preseason) game,” which is Thursday in New Orleans against Baltimore. Walker & Sons says it believes the NFL told Cox Media to do this Monday.

Thus, the league avoids having an advertisement with “Slap Ya Mama” show up on the field in a game where Ray Rice, recently the focus of much national discussion after the NFL’s two game suspension, will be playing.

According to Jack Walker, the Vice President of Marketing of Slap Ya Mama Cajun Products, the company has been advertising with the Saints with the same promotion for three preseasons, and “the NFL has never once said anything.”

Wrong place, wrong time? The NFL is sensitive after the heavy criticism it received about domestic violence penalties after the Ray Rice announcement.

But let’s go a different direction.

The NFL’s position on “Slap Ya Mama” takes a decidedly different stance on corporate name perception versus tradition, compared with the stance on the Washington football team name.

According to Walker, the “Slap Ya Mama” product was a family recipe, first developed by his father at their local convenience stores and delis in 1996. When it came time to name the product, it was a no-brainer, and it was his mother, Jen Walker, who insisted, “No, we have to name it ‘Slap Ya Mama,’ being from south Louisiana, it’s who we are.”

Walker said the phrase was something he heard “way before we started using it as a brand name. It’s part of our culture. People say food is ‘slap ya mama’ good.” It’s not referring to beating on one’s mother, but as Walker explains, “something is so delicious, so good, you want to give your mama a loving slap or pat on the back.”

Culture. Tradition. It doesn’t mean what you think. Where have we heard that? Roger Goodell, take it away.

“The Washington Redskins name has … from its origin represented a positive meaning distinct from any disparagement that could be viewed in some other context, for the team’s million of fans and customers, who represent one of America’s most ethnically and geographically diverse fan bases, the name is a unifying force that stands for strength, courage, pride and respect.” [emphasis ours]

The “Slap Ya Mama” phrase could be viewed as violent, in a vacuum. But its positive meaning–talking about a mama making food so good you want to make a loving gesture–is certainly distinct from any disparagement, right?

Commissioner Roger Goodell Press Conference

Goodell has also invoked the “it can’t be offensive if the target group isn’t offended” position.

In a Native American community poll nine out of 10 supported the name and eight out of 10 in the general population would not like us to change the name, so we’re listening and being respectful for those who disagree but let’s not forget this is the name of a football team.”

Walker, on whether his company’s product name was offensive to mothers: “Maybe 2 out of 100 mothers might have an issue with the name, or may have said something about the name. We very seldom have any problem with people complaining about the name. You don’t take the words literally.”

The NFL now cares about how a name is perceived, independent of whether its history is unrelated to any disparagement. I’m guessing this is a one-time exception, though.

[Image of “Slap Ya Mama” on Saints field via Nick Underhill]

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