ONE by one, news publications and top sports writers have begun avoiding the Washington, D.C., NFL team name this year, in response to a growing national discomfort over the word “redskins,” or as many of us call it, the “R-word” in sports.
Nearly every national Native American organization focused on advancing the lives and rights of Native people — from the Native American Rights Fund to the National Congress of American Indians — has taken action or spoken in opposition to the name.
Even President Obama in early October offered his views on the matter, saying he would consider changing the name if he were the team’s owner. Tribal leaders thanked him for the comments in a meeting at the White House this month.
Yet there’s still debate on whether the team name offends or honors Native Americans.
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For those on the fence or who remain in support of the nickname as the debate continues, consider this: Would you, in any other context, refer to Native Americans as “redskins?” Would you call me, a member of the Crow Tribe, or any other Native American, a “redskin” in conversation and expect your words to not offend?
The team name is a racial slur, dating to a time long before the Washington franchise adopted it 80 years ago.
I serve as president of the Native American Journalists Association. Our nonprofit considers the term so offensive we avoid using it except when absolutely necessary, and generally only to make a point about its disparaging nature.
Letting go of a decades-old moniker for any sports team is difficult, as Port Townsend knows. After 87 years, the local school board voted unanimously in June to retire the Port Townsend High School mascot, which shared the same name as the one used by the Washington NFL franchise.
If precedent is any indicator, the controversy over the name in Port Townsend will continue for months or years. This country has seen emotions run high when these changes come down.
Washington NFL team owner Dan Snyder argues the name is a tribute to Native people, and he wrote in a letter to season-ticket holders that the name represents a heritage worth preserving for generations to come.
It’s difficult to accept this argument. What about the generations of my family and other Native people to come? What about our heritage — which is in no way honored by the Washington team name — or the spectacle that comes each game day when fans don plastic feathers and face paint?
It’s time for Snyder to change the team name.
Whatever he decides, news organizations should immediately end use of this offensive slur, just as other slurs are rightfully avoided in our profession.
There are encouraging signs. The Kansas City Star advises against using the term, as does Sports Illustrated’s Peter King and USA Today’s Christine Brennan. The San Francisco Chronicle last month also became a leader by setting an editorial policy that limits use of the name. The Orange County Register quickly followed suit. I expect others also will in the months to come.
The Seattle Times advises against using the nickname in prominent places, such as headlines, while allowing minimal use in sports stories. It’s a policy that recognizes the name is offensive and represents a step in the right direction. It’s only right that eventually the paper will find there’s no place for the term at all, except when necessary in discussing the controversy surrounding it.
Even the most ardent Washington fans, and Snyder himself, don’t appear to publicly use the team name to describe actual members of the more than 500 tribes in this country.
For those still unsure about whether or not the name is offensive, therein lies your answer. It’s time to stop using it in sports, conversation and news.
Mary Hudetz of Phoenix is president of the Native American Journalists Association. Twitter @marymhudetz