The Media Takes a Tomahawk to the Redskins
By Brian Braiker
The Washington Redskins, according to Forbes, is the second-most valuable franchise in the NFL (behind, coincidentally enough, the Dallas Cowboys). The Redskins also have a branding problem.
Their logo features a Native American man in profile, with feathers in his hair. The name itself is considered by some to be a racial slur. Now a handful of media outlets have declared their intention to boycott the word in any coverage of the team. Writing in Slate on Thursday, David Plotz announced his site’s decision to stop printing the word.
“Time passes, the world changes, and all of a sudden a well-intentioned symbol is an embarrassment. Here’s a quick thought experiment: Would any team, naming itself today, choose ‘Redskins’ or adopt the team’s Indian-head logo? Of course it wouldn’t,” he wrote.
Already, Plotz points out, the Washington City Paper, Gregg Easterbrook, the Buffalo News and Philadelphia Daily News refuse to print the name. Mother Jones followed Slate’s lead on Friday. “From here on out, we will refer to the team online and in print as ‘Washington’ or ‘Washington’s pro football team’ or, if we get sassy, ‘the Washington [Redacted]’.”
Complaints about the name date back to at least 1992 when a group of Native Americans filed to have the United States trademarks associated with the Redskins name cancelled under statutes which prevent registration of disparaging terms.
Writing in the Orlando Sentinel at the time, Clarence Page put it bluntly: “[The Washington Redskins] are the only big time professional sports team whose name is an unequivocal racial slur. After all, how would we react if the team was named the Washington Negroes? Or the Washington Jews?”
Tony Wyllie, a spokesman for the Washington Redskins, responded to a Digiday request for an interview with a terse “No comment.”
In May ten members of Congress sent a letter to the NFL Commissioner and Dan Snyder, the team’s irascible owner, requesting that the name be changed. Snyder responded snottily that he will “never” buckle. Former team owner Jack Kent Cooke has said “I admire the Redskins name. I think it stands for bravery, courage, and a stalwart spirit and I see no reason why we shouldn’t continue to use it.”
We here at Digiday are hardly slaves to political correctness. But it’s not hard to imagine that those who would cling to a term as outmoded and offensive as “Redskins” are on the losing side of history.
So too, come to think of it, are folks who turn to Slate and Mother Jones for their NFL coverage.