Prominent members of the news media who have criticized the Redskins name say they aren’t changing their opinions about it despite a new Washington Post poll indicating that the vast majority of American Indians aren’t offended by it.
They insist that the issue is personal to them and that no poll can persuade them to write or utter the team name in their columns and broadcasts.
The media have critiqued the team’s name for decades, but the clamor against it has been loudest in recent years.
Bob Costas, the NBC Sports broadcaster, said he decided several years ago that the name was inappropriate and chose not to use it. He most famously weighed in against it during halftime of a Redskins-Cowboys game in 2013, telling viewers that the name is “an insult, a slur, no matter how benign the present-day intent.”
On Thursday, a few hours after the release of The Post’s poll showing that 90 percent of Indians weren’t bothered by the team’s name, Costas stood firm.
“As I said in my halftime essay, and have repeated since, I do not believe there is any offense intended by the Redskins team name or by its fans,” he said. “But as I have noted, this is a football issue and there is a distinction between this issue and others that might be influenced by political correctness run amok, and it is simply this: Every dictionary defines Redskin as an insult, a slur, a derogatory or pejorative term. That is what separates it from names like Chiefs, Braves or Warriors, which are not, by definition, offensive.”
As a result, he said, there is “a legitimate basis” for objecting to the team’s name, and he’ll continue to avoid using it.
Christine Brennan, a USA Today sports columnist and a sports commentator for ABC and CNN, said she chose in 2013 to write and say “Washington NFL team” instead of “Redskins.” She vowed Thursday to stick with that decision.
“I’m offended by the name,” said Brennan, who covered the team for The Post from 1985 to 1987. “I just can’t say it. A poll isn’t going to change my opinion. I will never make a decision about anything in my life, much less this, based on a poll.”
But the poll implicitly raises a question for media figures: Can they be offended on behalf of a group that they’re not part of, especially a group that appears, overwhelmingly, not to be offended by the word media figures object to?
Mike Wise, an ESPN columnist, answered the question this way: “To me, this has never been a Native American issue. You don’t have to be Native American to be offended. I don’t like hearing the n-word even though some people in the African American community aren’t offended by it.”
When he was a sports columnist at The Post, Wise wrote numerous articles objecting to “Redskins”; his work was recently honored by the National Congress of American Indians.
News organizations that have banished the name from print said they would continue to do so, unaffected by the poll’s findings.
“The Post poll doesn’t change the fact that Redskins is pejorative on its face,” said Steve Cavendish, the editor of Washington City Paper, which routinely refers to the team as “the Pigskins.” City Paper has its own poll: In a February survey of D.C. residents, it found that 58 percent considered the team’s name offensive.
The Post’s editorial board will continue to ban the name from editorials except in reference to the name controversy, said Fred Hiatt, the paper’s editorial-page editor. “Our view is a lot of readers find it offensive,” he said. “Most people would not use this word face to face with a Native American to describe that person. Therefore, we choose not to use it.” The name will continue to appear in Post news stories, however.
Calling himself “terribly surprised” by the poll results, Deford said: “I’ve always thought you should call people what they want to be called. Cassius Clay said call me Muhammad Ali, and we had an obligation to call him what he wanted. That, to me, would be the analogy. If 90 percent of Native Americans feel this way, I just can’t see what justification there is to remove the name. In a case like this, majority rules.”