Native American coalition urging broadcasters not to use Redskins name


The Washington Redskins logo is seen on the field before an NFL football preseason game against the New England Patriots in Landover. (Alex Brandon/AP)

A coalition of more than 100 Native American and social justice groups plans to send a letter Thursday to thousands of television and radio broadcasters in every city with an NFL team asking them not to utter the Washington Redskins name.

The group, led by the National Congress of American Indians and the Oneida Indian Nation, also plans to run radio ads this weekend in Texas, timed for Washington’s game at Houston. The radio ad asks people to call their local media outlets to tell them not to use “the R-word” when reporting on the team.

The letter comes after several high-profile media outlets and personalities have denounced the team name and said they won’t use it. Last month, The Washington Post’s editorial board declared that it would no longer use the name. (The Post’s news side continues to use the moniker based on a newsroom policy that requires its reporters to use the names that institutions choose for themselves.) On Wednesday, the New York Daily News said it would no longer use the name in its sports coverage.

CBS Sports said in July that its on-air announcers are free to decide whether to use the name.

“We have a growing list of news outlets and personalities against the name,” said Joel Barkin, the Oneida Indian Nation’s spokesman. “Now we have people [such as] Lisa Salters from ESPN, Phil Simms and James Brown from CBS, and Tony Dungy from NBC. For people who are thoughtful and take an objective look at the issue, more than likely they’re saying, ‘Why should I use a name if I know it’s going to offend a group of people?’ ”

Where notable people stand on the Redskins’ name

Asked to respond to the letter, Washington Redskins spokesman Tony Wyllie said in a statement, “We are focused on winning football games, starting in Houston this weekend.”

The team has argued repeatedly that the name honors — rather than disparages — Native Americans. It recently launched a campaign to defend the name, headed by popular former players. Ads for RedskinsFacts.com have begun appearing on popular newspaper and magazine Web sites, and the site is being promoted on social media.

In its letter to broadcasters, the coalition of civil rights groups notes that a recent U.S. Patent and Trademark Office decision canceling the team’s trademarks rendered the name a “government-defined racial slur.”

“Every time the slur is promoted on the public airwaves even in a non-critical way by a journalist, it is an endorsement of the continued use of this slur,” the letter states.

Daniel Snyder, the team’s owner, has vowed never to change the name and is appealing the trademark office’s ruling in federal court.

ESPN surveyed 286 NFL players throughout the offseason and training camp and found that 58 percent thought the name should be kept and 42 percent said Washington should find a new name, according to a report this week. In a separate ESPN survey of 51 Redskins players, 26 thought the name should be kept and one wanted it scrapped. The other 24 players declined to respond.

Ian Shapira is a features writer on the local enterprise team and enjoys writing about people who have served in the military and intelligence communities. He joined the Post in 2000 and has covered education, criminal justice, technology, and art crime.
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