Why is it that sportscasters and journalists still use Washington’s team name on air and in print? It is, after all, a racial slur. Dan Snyder may not choose to do the right thing and change the name but broadcasters have a choice.
They are not forced to use the name.
“Think for a moment about the term ‘Redskins,’ and how it truly differs from all the others. Ask yourself what the equivalent would be, if directed toward African-Americans, Hispanics, Asians, or members of any other ethnic group.
When considered that way, ‘Redskins’ can’t possibly honor a heritage, or noble character trait, nor can it possibly be considered a neutral term. It’s an insult, a slur, no matter how benign the present-day intent.”
CBS, FOX and NBC allow their broadcasters to choose whether or not to use the name. NBC notes, “For all our sports properties, our on-air commentators have full discretion to reference participating teams by their city/region/state name, team nickname or both.” So why use “Redskins”?
For many people, the term is offensive. Yes, Ives Goddard of the Smithsonian noted that redskins was first used by some Native Americans in the late 1700s to differentiate themselves from white colonists.
However, by the late 1800s the term had taken on a decidedly negative connotation and has remained so ever since. Displaying the sentiment of the time, in 1890 The Wizard of Oz author Frank Baum championed the Wounded Knee massacre and killing of Sitting Bull writing, “With his fall the nobility of the Redskin is extinguished, and what few are left are a pack of whining curs who lick the hand that smites them.”
By 2013, Kevin Grover, director of the National Museum of the American Indian, noted that redskin was “the equivalent of the N-word”. This seems like a very good reason to discontinue using it.
Sure, there was a recent Washington Post poll cited results indicating 9 of 10 Native Americans were not offended by the name. Shortly thereafter however, several journalists and publications found fault with the Post’s methodology.
In part, some of the problems are the sample size (504), the method of identifying respondents (self-identified without any verification) and demographics (disproportionately collecting and inaccurately portraying who Native Americans are).
In fact, The Nation reported that Brian Pollard, board member of the Native American Journalists Association concluded, “What they’ve created is a piece of data that drives a narrative they desired. This was something they manufactured from the beginning.” This poll was clearly not the definitive unbiased statistics driven journalism it was purported to be.
There are varied reasons people give for retaining the name. There are those who claim the rich tradition of the name. The organization changed its name from the Braves to the Redskins in 1933 and moved from Boston to Washington in 1937—not really that long ago. Some, including Washington’s owner Dan Snyder, claim the name honors and respects Native Americans—though many are clearly offended and find the term patently racist. But perhaps most frequently cited reason comes from those who point to polls such as the one mentioned above “proving” Native Americans have no problem with the name.
But, even if most Native Americans are not offended by the name, we need to ask, is using a racial slur acceptable if it offends just half a million people (that is slightly less than 10% of the Native American population)?
Would we find the Dallas Spics or San Francisco Chinks acceptable if a poll found 90% of Latinos or Asians were not offended by those names?
Would broadcasters be willing to use Spics or Chinks on air?
If not, why use Redskins?
In 1997 Washington’s NBA owner Abe Pollin, concerned with gun violence and crime, changed the team’s name from Bullets to Wizards.
Names can be changed.
Since at least 1972 the team has formally been asked by delegations of Native Americans to change the name. Redskins is offensive and wrong. Given how this country has treated Native Americans—killing hundreds of thousands to take their land, intentionally infecting them with smallpox and marching them hundreds of miles to be forcibly settled on reservations—can we not, at the very least, get this right? Broadcasters and journalists, you have a choice.
Please stop using “Redskins”. And Dan Snyder, if you’re listening, do the right thing, change the name.