Football season is upon us once more, which means another year of swirling debate around just what to do about the Washington Redskins' name.
Now, the Redskins' hometown paper, The Washington Post, has waded into the fray: Its editorial board announced Friday that the nickname would no longer appear on its op-ed pages.
"[T]he matter seems clearer to us now than ever, and while we wait for the National Football League to catch up with thoughtful opinion and common decency, we have decided that, except when it is essential for clarity or effect, we will no longer use the slur ourselves."
An October 2013 study from Pew Research found that at least 76 outlets and journalists have moved to limit or ban the use of the team's name — a number that has obviously ticked up since then. (For the record, NPR's official policy is to use the team's name when reporting on it. But since the Redskins aren't very good and we don't do a ton of sports reporting anyway, we don't have a whole lot of opportunities to use or not use the name.)
While these bans have been getting a lot of attention in the past year or so, it's a stance that many media organizations and journalists have held since the early 1990s. Here's a brief rundown of who has opted out of saying the team's name, and how those policies have fared.
In April 1992, the Portland Oregonian announced that it was dropping the name — and for good measure, it was going to give Major League Baseball's Atlanta Braves and Cleveland Indians the same treatment.
Also in 1992, Tony Kornheiser, the Washington Post's voluble, long-tenured sports columnist, said that he was going to avoid using the name in his writing. "I don't sense any groundswell out there to change the name, and I suspect most people would rather the issue go away," he wrote. Kornheiser floated a few alternate nicknames for the team, like the "Pigskins" — which allows fans to keep using the "'Skins" shorthand and also reference one of the team's famous offensive lines. (More on that in a second.) Two local Washington, D.C., radio stations, WTOP-AM and WASH-FM, were also early adopters of banning "Redskins" way back in 1992. (We were unable to determine whether those stations' policies were still in place.)
According to the media blog Romenesko, there were at least three major dailies that banned "Redskins" by 1994: the aforementioned Oregonian, as well as the Minneapolis Star-Tribune and the Salt Lake City Tribune. The Star-Tribune later reversed the ban following a change in management, only to reinstate it after leadership changed once again. Tim McGuire, the editor of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune who imposed the ban, wrote on his blog that the move earned him a lot of grief. "My sports staff was not happy and criticism came from many quarters. Among other things, we were accused of being self-aggrandizing." But McGuire said that Native American leaders praised the move. Meanwhile, The Salt Lake Tribune did away with its ban in 2003 and began using the nickname again.
The Kansas City Star — a paper, we should note, that shares a hometown with the Kansas City Chiefs — has had a policy in place for some time that avoids the use of Redskins. It doesn't appear that there was any official announcement about it, so it's hard to figure out just how long this has been the case. In 2012, the paper's public editor decided to address the issue and defend that stance when an irate reader complained about it. Deadspin found that while the team's name still occasionally made it into wire copy for the Star, a search for "Redskins" on KansasCityStar.com turned up only 150 results — while a search on the New York Times turns up 55,000 results. (I should note here that the Times' hometown Giants are division rivals with Washington, and thus play them twice a season. That means the Times is writing about the 'Skins a lot. The same isn't true for the Chiefs, who often go years without matching up against Washington.)
The Washington City Paper, a local alt-weekly, agreed with the Star's public editor but found that the paper's just-call-them-"Washington" approach was a little too clunky in application. "Sports teams have names; we just wish this team had a different one," the City Paper's Mike Madden wrote in 2012. So the City Paper held a reader vote to come up with a new name for the publication for the local team. The winner: The Pigskins — the same sobriquet favored by Kornheiser. "One added benefit to the name: The 'Skins abbreviation still works," Madden wrote. "And even the team's fight song can fit our new style, with only slight modification: "Hail to the Pigskins, hail victory, Hogs on the warpath, fight for old D.C.!"
Last summer, the Buffalo News' Tim Graham and the Philadelphia Daily News' John Smallwood swore off the team's nickname. Not too long after, Slate's then-editor David Plotz caused a big stir when he said that the influential online magazine was going to do the same. "Here's a quick thought experiment: Would any team, naming itself today, choose 'Redskins' or adopt the team's Indian-head logo?" Plotz asked. "Of course it wouldn't." Plotz also wrote he hoped that the Washington Post — at the time, the parent company of Slate — would change its stance, as well.
Many outlets that don't have any official, company-wide policies against the use of the team's name still give a lot of discretion to their journalists to do as they see fit. Here's an incomplete list of high-profile sports media folks who've dropped the name:
- Grantland publisher Bill Simmons
- Sports Illustrated's longtime NFL columnist Peter King
- USA Today's NFL writer Christine Brennan
- ESPN host Keith Olbermann
- The New York Times' Bill Rhoden
- NBC's color analyst Cris Collinsworth
- Bleacher Report's editor Matt Miller
- CBS analyst Phil Simms
- NBC analyst Tony Dungy
On the other side of the argument, ESPN's Rick Reilly defended the team name last September, and he cited his Native American father-in-law's supposedly what's-the-big-deal stance on the issue. The next day his father-in-law wrote in Indian Country Today that Reilly misquoted him and that he thought the team's name was racist and should be changed. (Those should be some fun holiday dinners, right?)
It seems like opinion on this issue might be moving among the general public, albeit slowly: in 1992, 89 percent of respondents in one poll favored keeping the team's name. A poll from January found that 71 percent of people didn't think the name should be changed, and a different poll from last month found that 65 percent of Washington area residents felt that way.
But despite all this consternation, Dan Snyder, the team's polarizing owner, has doubled down. "We'll never change the name of the team," he told USA Today earlier this summer. "It's that simple."