National Public Radio has instructed its staff to limit their use of the term “Redskins” in its coverage of Washington’s football team.
“To my mind, this is in fact a very significant change, not only for NPR, but for the mainstream media in general,” NPR’s ombudsman, Edward Schumacher-Matos, wrote in a column this week. “NPR becomes the first large national news organization to pull back on the use of a name that is a slur to many Native Americans.”
Schumacher-Matos noted that many other publications, including the New York Daily News and the San Francisco Chronicle, never or seldom use “Redskins.” The Post editorial board announced in August that it would no longer use the term, though the separate news-gathering side of the organization continues to.
NPR broadcasts its programs through more than 1,000 stations, which reach 35 million listeners a week, according to its website. It remains unclear how NPR’s local member station, WAMU (88.5 FM), will deal with the issue.
“In common with other news organizations, we’ve had a lot of discussion about the topic,” said station spokeswoman Kathleen Allenbaugh. “We’ll be issuing guidelines to our staff soon.”
She declined to offer specifics.
Team owner Dan Snyder has vowed to never change the name, which he contends honors Native Americans. The team has cited polls showing that a majority of Americans — and even a majority of Native Americans in one 10-year-old survey — do not find the mascot offensive.
The NPR memo, written by standards editor Mark Memmott, did not ban use of the word, but it did discourage reporters from saying or writing the moniker unless it was needed for clarity or as part of the organization’s coverage of the name controversy.
He pointed to an NPR policy on potentially offensive language. It states that “as a responsible broadcaster, NPR has always set a high bar on use of language that may be offensive to our audience. Use of such language on the air [and online] has been strictly limited to situations where it is absolutely integral to the meaning and spirit of the story being told.”
When possible, Memmott said, reporters should refer to the Redskins simply as “Washington” or “the team.”
Memmott acknowledged that use of the word would at times be unavoidable, but said “we can also be sensitive, avoid overuse of the word and use alternatives – as we would with other potentially offensive language.”
A number of sports commentators have also stopped using the word, including Grantland publisher Bill Simmons, Sports Illustrated’s Peter King and ESPN’s Keith Olbermann as well as the Washington Post’s Mike Wise and Robert McCartney. CBS Sports allows its individual announcers to decide whether they’ll refer to the mascot; analyst and former NFL great Phil Simms has chosen not to.