Philadelphia, Buffalo writers vow to stop using ‘Redskins’ in print


(Dan Steinberg/The Washington Post)

(I know that you [and every single one of your friends] are so tired of reading stories about the Redskins nickname, both pro and con, that you [and they] have vowed never to ingest another word on the topic. I also know that, somehow, invisible space aliens keep clicking on everything we publish about the topic. Also, this is a national news story involving our most popular local team, taking place during our slowest sports time of the year. So I apologize, but there will be several of these items today.)

The Redskins name issue still strikes me as something that many more media members care about, proportionally, than do normal football fans. But that doesn’t appear to be strictly a D.C. media phenomenon. Because two football writers at major publications this month vowed to stop using the name in print.

First came Tim Graham, the former ESPN.com writer who again is part of the Buffalo News’s sports department. Graham wrote a lengthy piece earlier this month, explaining his view.

“I’m not out to change the world or the NFL or what you believe,” he began. “My plan is to change me and how I operate. Beyond the period at the end of this sentence, I intend never to use the word redskin again.”

Graham admitted he could slip up, but went on to detail why he is making this declaration, quoting two Native Americans from Western New York along the way.

There are folks who’ll see this and instinctively moan about political correctness and bleeding-heart liberalism or the loss of old-school traditions. And a vast majority of those readers will be white men. Almost none of them will be Native Americans.

We don’t get to decide what’s offensive. The people about whom we speak do.

“It’s an incredibly offensive word,” said Samantha Nephew, the marketing and communications specialist for Seneca Holdings in the HSBC Tower….

“We don’t like it,” said Chief Darwin Hill of the Tonawanda Band of Senecas. “Black people don’t like the words that are used for them. Hispanics, Jewish people, everybody has been called different things that we don’t say anymore. When does it end?…”

“It hurts that people don’t have that respect to know that our land was taken away under really horrible circumstances,” Nephew said. “To make light of that at a football game doesn’t make sense to me, and that’s what the Redskins name does.”

Graham seemed particularly miffed at Daniel Snyder’s recent promise never to change, and concluded his piece like this:

The R-word would be embarrassing to say if we hadn’t heard it from the time we became conscious of NFL teams and logos. The R-word should not tumble from our mouths so effortlessly, so thoughtlessly.

“It’s a matter of respect,” Nephew said. “I wouldn’t call anybody whatever racially derogatory term there is for them even if I don’t understand why it’s offensive. Why would I do that? I’m not in the business of offending people.”

I won’t speak for anybody else, but neither am I.

A few days later came a similar piece from Philadelphia Daily News sports columnist John Smallwood, who grew up in the Maryland suburbs and has been writing about sports for 25 years. He said he was inspired by Graham’s piece to make his own stand.

Instead of the official nickname, I will refer to the team as Washington, Washington’s football team, the ‘Skins, the R’s or some other reference.

It won’t be hard, but it could potentially make life on deadline a bit more troublesome for the copy editors if higher-ups don’t agree with my stance and decide it is not my place to make personal policy a part of the newspaper.

Still, I won’t write it.

Smallwood, like Graham, was put off by the defenses for the team name offered by Snyder and Roger Goodell, and said the commissioner was “making a “some of my best friends are black” argument to try to hide his true agenda of protecting the brand of one of the league’s most financially valuable franchises.” He also went through George Preston Marshall’s racial legacy, which has been a popular tactic for opponents of the name.

In practical use, the R-Word is no different from calling an African-American the N-Word, a Jewish person the K-Word, a Hispanic the W-Word, an Irish-American the M-Word, or an Italian American a different W-word.

All are meant to insult, dehumanize and offend. Using them is a display of hatred. Yet, the R-Word is the only one that we dare celebrate in sports as a profit-making enterprise. The NFL won’t put any pressure on Snyder as long as the nickname and logo are huge moneymakers. Still, by joining Graham in refusing to use the name then that’s one fewer tiny piece of promotion the slur won’t get.

These, of course, are not the first writers to make such a promise. In October, City Paper editors decided that publication would henceforth refer to the team as the Pigskins. In February, DCist announced it would refer to the Redskins as “the Washington football team…or some variation.” The Kansas City Star has had a policy for several years of usually working around the team nickname. The Oregonian announced such a policy more than 20 years ago. The Seattle Times has also had a policy keeping such nicknames out of headlines and captions.

Dan Steinberg writes about all things D.C. sports at the D.C. Sports Bog.
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Dan Steinberg · June 19, 2013