Amid growing controversy and a federal lawsuit involving the name of Washington D.C.’s football team, which many, including me, consider racist and unnecessarily offensive to American Indians, three more news outlets have decided to ditch the name altogether. Slate, The New Republic, and Mother Jones this week joined publications like the Washington City Paper, DCist, the Kansas City Star, and Buffalo News columnist Tim Graham in refusing to print the name of the football team that calls the nation’s capital home.
Slate’s argument for making the change began with editor David Plotz going through the name’s “relatively innocent history,” noting that the term was appropriated from Native Americans themselves, and only over time evolved into a slur. The full etymology is a matter of debate, but evolve it did, to the point where it is now defined plainly as a slur. And appropriating racial descriptors as football team names seems neither a good idea nor one we’d support today. We’d never allow an owner to choose such a name today and we’d never argue that re-appropriating racial terms other minority groups use regularly was anything but offensive.
Setting the term’s history aside, surely we’re smart enough to find better ways to honor a population that was nearly eradicated by the government than by naming a football team after them.
Refusing to use the name isn’t going to cause immediate change. Mother Jones, The New Republic, and Slate aren’t in the business of covering the Washington football team’s day-to-day affairs, and owner Daniel Snyder likely isn’t going to notice. Neither, I’d assume, will the majority of the National Football League media or even a sizable chunk of the league’s fans (no offense to either outlet). If Snyder isn’t going to dump the name amid a federal lawsuit from Native Americans and calls from the D.C. City Council and members of Congress to change the name, he isn’t going to do it because a few news outlets stop referring to his team by its name.
But that doesn’t mean the decision is self-righteous or a bad idea, as some have suggested. News outlets regularly make style decisions about what terms to print, and if editors and writers feel they can inform readers without using a word they deem racist and offensive, why should they use it? On a separate note, news outlets regularly print stories or make editorial decisions that aren’t going to cause immediate change but are instead meant to inform the public. If Slate, TNR, or MoJo’s readers, or those of the other news outlets, are more informed or aware of the debate because of these decisions, that doesn’t strike me as a bad thing either. The more outlets that make this decision while they continue to cover the ongoing name controversy will only further advance the conversation and make more people take notice of it.
As for what the team should be called instead, I’m partial to Huffington Post reporter Arthur Delaney’s idea: the Washington Department of Football. It would take some getting used to, but what’s more Washington than that?