Even as the debate over whether the Washington Redskins should change their name continues to escalate, the team has had at least one mostly safe space in which the word Native Americans say is a “dictionary defined slur” is still merely the name of a football team: the broadcast booth. With one notable exception, the league’s broadcast partners — CBS, NBC, ESPN, and FOX — have remained out of the fray about the name.
Could that change this season? Asked about the issue in a recent interview with The Hollywood Reporter, CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus said that the network hadn’t talked to announcing teams about using the name during broadcasts, but he indicated that during the upcoming season individual announcers and production teams could make their own decisions about whether to say it, and that the network is cognizant of the ongoing controversy.
“We haven’t talked to (our analysts) yet,” McManus told THR. “Generally speaking, we do not tell our announcers what to say or not say. Up to this point, it has not been a big issue for us. Last year, it was simmering; now it’s reaching a hotter level. But we probably will not end up dictating to our announcers whether they say Redskins or don’t say Redskins.
“We leave that up to them and our production team. There are times when something becomes important enough that we talk to them, and between now and the start of football season we’ll decide what is the right thing to do,” he added.
At least for now, it appears nothing will change network-wide, and the others haven’t weighed in. But there are indications that this sort of internal questioning — or at least the beginning stages of such questioning — are taking place elsewhere too. ESPN has discussed whether its reporters should continue using the name in its print and online products, though it so far has decided to keep it. And NBC, which broadcasts Sunday Night Football and the Football Night in America studio show, was the network where Bob Costas concluded that the name was “a slur” during a halftime monologue last season.
Other outlets — most of them print — have already quit using the name. The Kansas City Star has long had a policy against it, and an assortment of Washington publications don’t use it. Several columnists have quit using it, and others, like The Oregonian, decided to no longer put “Redskins” in print long ago (it has the same policy toward other Native American-based names).
Networks like CBS have to walk a fine line on an issue like this, which makes giving individual broadcasters a choice not to use the name an even bigger decision. As ESPN ombudsman Robert Lipsyte noted in discussing the issue last year, executives at networks like CBS and ESPN still have to consider the business side of their broadcast relationship, and their partner — the NFL — is still very much in favor of keeping this name.
It is interesting too that McManus isn’t closing the door to a wider policy shift, suggesting that if the swarm around the name continues reaching hotter levels, it could become a bigger issue for production teams and the network itself. It is likely that the fight will only escalate from here given that activists have promised that their campaign is permanent, so even if nothing changes now, it will be interesting to see how CBS and the NFL’s other broadcast partners react to the ever-changing environment around this name.