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DC at Night

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Does Washington's Football Team Need a New Name?

With a 2-5 record, Washington's National Football League team is obviously experiencing difficulties on the field. But there is an equally ominous situation off the field as well.

The problem is the continuing controversy over the team's nickname. Many Native Americans, national and local politicians, and a growing number of sports writers and broadcasters contend the name Redskins is racist and demeaning and must be changed.

Stalwart fans argue that the name is both a tribute to Indian warriors and historical and therefore should remain. Team owner Daniel Snyder agrees with those fans and has vowed never to change the name.

In a recent Newseum Now program, George Solomon, former assistant managing editor for the Washington Post and the current director of the Shirley Povich Center for Sports Journalism at the University of Maryland, and Jacqueline Johnson Pata, executive director of the National Congress of American Indians, a nonprofit organization representing American Indian and Alaska tribal governments and communities, talked about the ongoing controversy.

The event came just days after a petition was filed with the Federal Communications Commission, asking that agency to ban the use of the team nickname on radio and TV as indecent and unfit for the nation's public airwaves.

"This is really about basic respect. It (the team nickname) is a racial slur," Pata said. "It is a reminder of a dark piece of (American) history and that is why it is harmful. The word doesn't have a great history with American Indians. It's a term that reminds that there was a bounty and a bidding war on those 'redskins.' It is part of the genocide of the Native Americans."

While there have been legal battles over the name for decades, the issue has come to the forefront in the past few years.

Columnists like Mike Wise of The Washington Post, Dave Zirin of The National Observer, and Christine Brennan of USA Today have all decided not to use the name Redksins when they write about the Washington football team.

Solomon said news organizations "constantly look at changes in society" in deciding proper writing style.

"You can go to the 5th floor (of the Newseum) and see all the history of newspapers. What you see from the mid 1800s is much different than you see today," he added. " I think it is the responsibility of newspapers to look at all aspects of society. That's what news organizations ought to do."

Solomon noted that the editorial board of The Washington Post had decided not to use the controversial nickname, but paper sportswriters are free to decided to use or not use it. "It's like a newspaper separation of church and state," he added.

A recent Sports Illustrated Poll indicated that 75 percent of its responding readers weren't upset with the use of the name.

But Pata said those results shouldn't matter.

"Would we still be dealing with slavery because the polls at the time would have supported it?" she asked. "Does that make it right? If you know what it (the term) really means and that it is harmful, especially to Native American youth, should you use it?"

Extra! Extra! Read All About It

There's Always More to the Story
  • Native Americans planning the largest-ever Redskins name protest at Washington Vikings game next month. (from The Washington Post)
  • Will the Minnesota Vikings violate their contract with the University of Minnesota if the name Redskins is used at the game? (from The Washington Post)
  • Actor and Washington football fan Matthew McConaughey wishes Redskins logo wouldn't change. (from The Huffington Post)
  • Watch The Daily Show with Jon Stewart tackle the Washington controversy. (from The Daily Show)

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