The Kansas City Star’s public editor recently got an email from a fan who was upset about the newspaper’s long-standing policy against printing the word “Redskins” when it refers to Washington’s National Football League team (instead, it refers to them as “Washington”). So he responded publicly, choosing to break a personal rule to highlight why the paper attempts to avoid publishing the “patently offensive name” at all costs:
“I remain unconvinced by every argument I’ve ever heard that the name is not a racial epithet, plain and simple,” he wrote. “And I’ll even break my usual rule about commenting on issues outside The Star’s journalism to say that I find it inconceivable that the NFL still allows such a patently offensive name and mascot to represent the league in 2012.
“I almost always come down on the side of publishing a word when it’s the crux of a debate (as I did here in the first paragraph). It isn’t healthy for discourse to pretend any words or thoughts don’t exist.
“But I see no compelling reason for any publisher to reprint an egregiously offensive term as a casual matter of course.”
Like Donovan, I’ve never heard a credible explanation as to why the name “Redskins” isn’t overtly racist and derogatory, and I’m thoroughly unpersuaded by dismissive arguments that we shouldn’t worry about team names or mascots because they are just team names and mascots. We’d never tolerate it if another racial or ethnic group was subjected to something similar, and if a professional league added a new team tomorrow, neither it nor fans would approve a name like “Redskins” or anything similar.
But I can’t help but notice that the paper doesn’t apply the same policy to Major League Baseball’s Cleveland Indians, whose name may not be as overtly racist as “Redskins” but is still factually incorrect and a subject of controversy for other sports teams. And Cleveland’s Chief Wahoo logo, which the team has started to move away from, is at least as demeaning and racist as the name “Redskins.”
The Star’s policy against the Redskins is a good one, and it’s one more news outlets should adopt. There’s no good reason for using the name, and there’s no good reason anyone should enable Washington or the NFL’s continued acceptance of it. But Native American imagery is prevalent in sports (some is accepted by Native American tribes, some isn’t), and as long as we’re applying a high level of scrutiny to sports’ worst offender, we ought to at least examine whether it’s worth applying to other teams too.
In an email, the Star’s public editor Derek Donovan told me that its policy also extends to the printing of the Cleveland Indians’ “Chief Wahoo” logo.