October 30, 2013

Media take sides on ‘Redskins’ name

FT_13.10.29_redskinsAt least 76 news outlets and journalists have publicly stated their opposition to the Washington Redskins name or moved to restrict or ban its use, according to a new Pew Research Center analysis.

The decades-long battle over a term that critics regard as a racial slur re-emerged earlier this year after D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray raised the issue and a group of Native Americans argued before the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board that the team  should lose its trademark protection because the name is disparaging. Team owner Dan Snyder responded in May, telling USA Today, “We’ll never change the name of the team. It’s that simple.”

NFL executives are meeting today with the Oneida Indian Nation to address the controversy over whether to change the name.

A month after Snyder’s statement, two sports journalists, Tim Graham of The Buffalo News and John Smallwood of the Philadelphia Daily News, wrote pieces indicating they would stop using the Redskins name in their reporting. Since then, a number of media outlets and personalities have weighed in—from The Washington Post editorial board to veteran NBC sportscaster Bob Costas.

Those who have publicly endorsed a name change represent a small fraction of the media universe and some of its members, such as sportswriter Rick Reilly, have defended the name. According to a June Washington Post poll, 66% of D.C. area residents don’t believe the name should be changed.  One notable D.C. resident, President Barack Obama, said he’d  “think about changing” the name during an October 5 interview with the Associated Press.

The ongoing media debate over how to describe the Washington football team harkens back to other cases in which journalists and news outlets have changed practices or policies because of concerns that language was offensive or inappropriate. Earlier this year, several news organizations announced a ban on the term “illegal immigrant” because it lacked precision and too broadly labeled a large group.

To determine how many media organizations and journalists have spoken out against the name, we culled from a number of sources, including the Oneida Indian Nation’s list.  While our list does not represent a complete census, it does provide a sense of the growing ranks of those opposing the name.

Here’s how the roster breaks down:

  • Twenty-four news outlets or journalists no longer use or limit the term “Redskins.” Sports Illustrated’s Peter King announced in August he would no longer use Redskins, writing that “it offends too many people.” USA Today’s Christine Brennan, and MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow have also boycotted the term. The other 52 outlets or journalists have said the team’s name should be changed.
  • Twelve news organizations have policies restricting or banning the use of the name. The Oregonian’s policy dates back to 1992, but most policies were implemented in 2013 (eight of them), with the most recent being reported as the San Francisco Chronicle.  Half of these outlets are newspapers; the others include online publications like Slate and magazines like The New Republic.
  • Newspapers are by far the largest sector in our sample. All told, newspaper companies or journalists who work at newspapers account for almost half (35) of those that have expressed some form of opposition to the Redskins name. That is followed by 18 television outlets or journalists and 13 online publications or journalists.
  • Journalists or news outlets that only cover sports make up more than half (42) of our sample. One of the most noteworthy was NBC’s Cris Collinsworth, who anchors the network’s marquee Sunday night football games. During Showtime’s Inside the NFL show, he stated “in this day and age, Redskins just doesn’t work.” But 34 general interest media outlets or journalists outside of sports have also opposed the term, including columnists Charles Krauthammer and Maureen Dowd.
  • Seven journalists who opposed the Redskins name are associated with ESPN, the dominant sports cable network.  They include Keith Olbermann, who recently returned to the sports network after stints as a talkhost at MSNBC and Current TV. The others include Tony Kornheiser, Bill Simmons, Matthew Berry, Paul Lukas, Gregg Easterbrook and LZ Granderson.

Topics: News Media Ethics and Practices

  1. Photo of Monica Anderson

    is a research associate focusing on internet, science and technology at Pew Research Center.