FROM THE EDITOR: Should newspapers ban controversial team name?
The debate over the name of the Washington, D.C., NFL franchise has gotten louder in recent weeks. While many are saying the team’s name is a racial slur — and calling for action — a recent Associated Press poll showed 79 percent of Americans think the name should stay as-is.
Even members of Congress have weighed in, asking owner Daniel Snyder to change his team’s divisive name.
Sports fans in this region know this argument well. The University of North Dakota’s Fighting Sioux mascot and nickname have been battled over for years.
An argument can be made that the term “Fighting Sioux” is meant as a point of pride, even though it reduces a racial minority to a stereotype.
But what justification does a newspaper, for instance, have to run the term “redskin” — even if the name is on toys and T-shirts?
A reader asked just that question last week in a piece of correspondence.
“Wouldn’t it be great if every news outlet would stop using the word and simply refer to the team as Washington,” the letter said.
One major newspaper already has that policy in place.
In a September 2012 blog post, Kansas City Star Public Editor Derek Donovan explained why the paper avoids the term.
“I remain unconvinced by every argument I’ve ever heard that the name is not a racial epithet, plain and simple,” Donovan wrote.
“I almost always come down on the side of publishing a word when it’s the crux of a debate . . . 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.”
Readers might now be thinking of the irony of this position given KC’s own NFL franchise, the Kansas City Chiefs. That team sports American Indian iconography — an arrowhead — in its logo. The team’s colors are a not-so-subtle shade of red.
” ‘Chief,’ ‘brave,’ ‘pirate’ and other words used for mascots aren’t specific references to the color of a person’s skin . . . But I don’t know of any other team name out there that’s based on nothing but skin color,” Donovan wrote in response to that dichotomy.
As I told our letter-writer by phone, the American News has no policy against running the full name of the Washington Redskins.
But I can think of no other time where the use of the term “redskin” would be allowed in our pages; perhaps in a quote or a historical piece. But never casually thrown out to describe a person or group of people.
The Associated Press 2013 Stylebook offers these guidelines when to identify someone by race:
In stories that involve a significant, groundbreaking or historic event, such as being elected U.S. president. For suspects sought by the police or missing persons cases, but only when using other, detailed descriptions. When reporting on events involving race or issues, such as civil rights or slavery.
“Do not use racially derogatory terms unless they are part of a quotation that is essential to the story,” The AP advises.
Is that team’s name essential to these stories?
It’s a worthy discussion that should continue.
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