As the Redskins begin training camp today in Richmond, the controversy surrounding the team’s nickname is generating as much buzz as its on-field prospects for the upcoming season. With national debate reaching a head, more media outlets have begun to outline policies on usage of “Redskins.” However, a poll of 48 newspapers -- those in NFL markets plus the L.A. Times, Wall Street Journal and USA Today -- showed that 44 have yet to make a change regarding usage of the name. The four that have banned use of the name will simply use “Washington” when referring to the team.
THE NEXT STEP: The Seattle Times just ceased use of the Redskins moniker in June. Sports Editor Don Shelton said he made the decision to minimize the use of “Redskins” about 20 years ago -- only once in stories, not in headlines or cutlines -- but last month stopped using it altogether. The decision came about when a new employee joined the staff. “He asked me what our policy was," Shelton said. "I thought about it. We minimized it 20 years ago, so this was just the next step.” Shelton penned a blog post to inform readers of the decision, and said he received at least 100 phone calls and more than 300 e-mails, with the reaction split down the middle. Going forward, the Times will make an exception and use it when discussing the controversy, but otherwise, “Not as long as I’m the sports editor,” Shelton said. Among the papers polled, the Detroit News and S.F. Chronicle also have terminated use of the nickname in the past year.
A LONG-STANDING POLICY: The K.C. Star, which boycotted the name 15 years ago, made headlines in ’12 when its public editor Derek Donovan penned a strongly worded editorial defending that policy. He wrote, “I almost always come down on the side of publishing a word when it's the crux of a debate ... But I see no compelling reason for any publisher to reprint an egregiously offensive term as a casual matter of course.” The paper’s Assistant Managing Editor of Sports Jeff Rosen noted the practice of referring to the team simply as “Washington” dates back to the late '90s. Rosen: “It was determined by our leadership at the time that we certainly wouldn't casually publish slurs or derogatory epithets about other ethnic or cultural groups, be they African-American or Asian -- so why would we do so with a term deemed offensive by Native Americans?” Donovan said that the main “sticking point” regarding the paper’s policy comes from those who compare Redskins to the Chiefs moniker for the hometown team. Donovan admitted there "can be some disagreement" about whether "Chiefs" is offensive or not. But he said that is "obviously in a completely different ballpark.”
NOT FOLLOWING THE LEADERS: Even with the number of papers not using the name quadrupling in the past year, they are still in the minority. Some major papers cited a desire to abstain from taking a side on the issue, and therefore continue using the name, while others simply have chosen to adhere to the team’s official name. The N.Y. Times continues to use the team’s nickname, but Assistant Managing Editor for Standards Philip Corbett said that the paper’s staff has continued to discuss and cover the issues surrounding the name. He said when referring to the football team, “I don’t believe readers think that The Times is intending the term as a slur. We're also wary about taking sides in an ongoing controversy that we're covering as a news organization.” He added, “It's certainly legitimate to question the use of sports names with that sort of background or history. In the end, though, I'm not sure The Times’ stylebook is the place where this debate is going to be resolved.” The L.A. Times in May published an editorial calling on the NFL to force the team to change the name. However, because the NFL still recognizes “Redskins” as the official moniker, Sports Editor Mike James wrote in an e-mail, “We’re not ready to make the step to stop using it.” He added the paper is having “ongoing discussions” about its use in print and online. "As someone who grew up in DC and was a die-hard fan growing up," James wrote, "I’ve had some difficulty for some time understanding why a team in the nation’s capital would continue to use -- and continue to be allowed to use -- a recognized slur as a nickname.”
USE AT YOUR OWN DISCRETION: Due to the consolidation of media properties under common ownership, a more dramatic shift against the name’s usage could be more likely to occur at the corporate level. South Florida Sun-Sentinel Exec Sports Editor Gregory Lee noted that the paper gets its sports wire content “in packaged form” from its parent company, Tribune Co., and therefore is not in a position to have an in-house policy on the name. Tribune owns nine major dailies, including three in NFL markets, plus the L.A. Times. But Chicago Tribune Editor Gerry Kern in an e-mail wrote, “While a lot of content, including sports, is shared among Tribune newspapers, each paper is free to choose its own course on this issue.” Meanwhile, USA Today Sports Media Group President Dave Morgan, who oversees more than 130 print and digital properties, shared a similar sentiment. He wrote in an e-mail that there is no corporate policy, and reporters and editors “will continue to use their discretion about the appropriate uses of the nickname.”
NATIONAL SERVICES CHIME IN: While most newspapers have stood by use of the moniker, Peter King’s The MMQB completely eliminated the name from its vocabulary last August. Meanwhile, CBS Sports last week said that it will allow its broadcasters to use their own discretion when referring to the team. ESPN in a statement said, "We use the marks and nicknames as utilized by the teams, leagues and conferences we cover."