Earlier this week, Seattle Times sports editor Don Shelton told readers that the paper, “as long as I am sports editor,” wouldn't use the official nickname of Washington D.C.’s NFL team. The name in question is “Redskins,” largely recognized as a slur among Native American people. Instead of using the nickname, the Times will refer to the team only as “the Washington’s NFL team.”
In the comments section, Shelton is of course being accused of shirking his journalistic impartiality, cow-towing to the political-correctness police and in so doing revealing the paper’s alleged liberal agenda, an accusation that might lead long-time readers of the Times to think that the Internet is populated with imbeciles. I digress.
It's difficult to understand what the commenters are worked up about. Could there really be a more flaccid way for the Times to protest a slur than to just refuse to repeat it? While the move allows Shelton and his paper to trumpet its cause (and its own moral high-ground) this one time, what happens after this flurry of commentary is over? The paper moves forward, never mentions the name in its coverage, and outside some continued belligerent commentary from readers, I’m sure, the issue falls into the background. Somehow this just doesn’t feel like enough and, as a result, gives the appearance that the Times—along with the other papers that, as Shelton points out, have gone before the Times in this open protest—is just grandstanding.
What is needed is a continued campaign that doesn’t just ignore the problem, but one that confronts it. There is another, better, more difficult way.
In his justification, Don Shelton uses a common analogy in the argument over the hurtful nature of the Redskins name.
“I find it as offensive as black people find the N-word,” [United Indian board member Randy Lewis] said. “They say they’re trying to dignify or honor something with it. It doesn’t dignify us. It doesn’t honor us. It doesn’t make us feel good about ourselves.”
Lewis, who is in his 60s, acknowledges that some Native Americans, particularly from his generation, accept and even embrace the name.
“But our younger people find it offensive, and they’re the ones who are inheriting this world,” he said. “If they find it offensive, damn right, take it out.”
So we are going to do just that.
Brian Howard, a legislative associate with the National Congress of American Indians, is 26 years old and attended school in Arizona off the reservation.
“I’ve witnessed and experienced first-hand many of the stereotypes, perceptions and racism aimed at Native people, including the R-word,” Howard said. “As long as I have a breath of life, I will keep opposing this.”
If this is the justification, why doesn’t the Seattle Times treat the “R-word” like the obscenity that Shelton supposedly believes it is. Rather than just ignoring the offending name, the paper could include a version of it in every report, in the same way that it treats other offensive terms it can't ignore. Identifying the team in this way would recognize the Redskins ownership’s stubbornness while also actively registering the paper’s disapproval.
On October 7, the day after the Seahawks face off against the Washington NFL team, wouldn’t it be something to read a headline from our city’s paper of record that smacks not of a certain sanitary high-mindedness, but of discomfiting forceful protest. We would all pick up the paper and be reminded, again, that the owners of the team in Washington D.C. are wrong, that the name they choose to identify their team is obscene, and (hopefully) that they lost.
There, across the front-page of the sports section, above the fold, the words—and dashes—would speak volumes:
"Seahawks Trounce the Washington R-------"