Making them see ‘Red,’ but forget about ’Skins'
An age-old axiom for journalists to follow is that they’re supposed to report the news, not create it.
That’s not to say news people never do anything legitimately newsworthy. If a reporter is cited for being drunk and disorderly, for instance, or if a male editor makes an unsolicited grab at a female writer or if a publisher plays fast and loose with company finances, those acts should absolutely not be ignored just because members of the fourth estate are involved.
But no media outlet should endeavor to get noticed by purposely building a story around itself.
It’s fine to be recognized for something done to enhance the common good. Railing against a government edict that has far more visible flaws than plusses from an outsider’s viewpoint — hello Obamacare — is sufficient reason to weigh in on a matter, but media should not consider itself the purveyor of a socially correct agenda that is basically self-manufactured.
Slate, a general-interest magazine owned by the Washington Post Co., recently announced its intention to no longer refer to the NFL team in Washington D.C. by its actual nickname, even though the franchise has no plans to change that moniker from “Redskins.” According to an online article posted on the company’s website, Slate is not the first publication to make this move — apparently a Washington paper, as well as ones in Buffalo and Philadelphia have chosen to do the same thing — but this is the one drawing the most attention.
The reason behind all of the actions is simple to understand: The name “Redskins” is not an especially tasteful one. Even individuals who aren’t bound by PC thinking tend to find it pretty insulting.
Some may argue beyond the obvious and say all nicknames relating to Native Americans be expunged, but there’s really no reason for that. There is nothing inherently derogatory about “Braves” or “Indians” or “Seminoles,” the latter, of course, being the name of an actual tribe.
“Redskin” supposedly has something of an innocuous past, but it really does sound like a slur. As one reader stated in the comments section of another online story, it’d be akin to changing Notre Dame University’s nickname from “Fighting Irish” to “Drunken Irish,” which would be fostering a stereotype.
So, on the surface, I don’t disagree with the Slate’s level of discomfort. But until Redskins owner Dan Snyder decides to bow to public pressure, the team’s nickname remains and, because of that, the club should be referred to by that name whenever the city itself isn’t used as identification.
Snyder did himself no favors when he told USA Today that he “will never change the name. It’s that simple. NEVER — you can use caps.” It’s evident Snyder was wearing the one with “dunce” written on it when he was quoted, but that’s beside the point.
The team is his to do with as he wishes. So, for example, when Snyder grossly overpays for underachieving athletes — which he has actually done with a fair degree of frequency over the past several seasons — it’s his own business.
Or at least 65 percent of it is. There are a few minority owners also involved, but the majority of the franchise belongs to Snyder.
This situation reminds me a little of the verbal dust-up that developed years ago between Hootie Johnson, the then-chairman of Augusta National, and Martha Burk, the spokesperson for a prominent women’s organization. The latter lobbied hard for females to be admitted as members of the private golf club, but the old guard in charge of Augusta refused to back down or be harangued into opening its doors any wider.
That eventually happened, but it was on Augusta’s terms, not the women’s group’s. So it is with Snyder, who probably will alter his own determined stance at some point in time.
Far more troublesome to me is the fact that, as expected, politicians have picked up the scent and are sniffing around the controversy in an attempt to look useful. A group in the House of Representatives went so far as to introduce a bill to void the Redskins trademark.
Hey, guys, when you’re through with that important task maybe you can look into some of the other niggling problems plaguing our nation, like high unemployment, massive debt, growing civil unrest, abuse of invasion-of-privacy laws …
Well, you get the idea. The government has no business meddling into any disagreement about a sports team nickname.
As for the folks at Slate, I have no issue with them disagreeing with the continued use of “Redskins,” and if its writers choose to argue strongly in support of a change, so be it. That’s what publications are designed to do.
However, making an editorial decision to eliminate the name while it still exists is overstepping the boundaries.
Some parties might praise the Slate for being so proactive, but let us not fail to consider one thing here: the Slate’s commitment, or lack thereof, to sports. The writer of the website article readily admitted that the magazine’s “coverage is sporadic” and that “hardly anyone will notice” when Slate stops referring to the Redskins by name.
Further, that same writer acknowledged that it would be much more difficult for the Washington Post to act in a similar manner because that august publication considers the Redskins “essential to its editorial mission.” In other words, the Post really can’t afford to alienate team ownership — and, by extension, its own readership — with a grandstand play like the Slate is executing.
Would the Slate, if it had as much at stake as the Post or other big-name publications do, be as quick to travel the moral high road? I’d like to think so, but somehow I doubt it. It’s always easier to play the rebel’s role when relatively few are likely to notice.
And that’s not solely a knock at the Slate. Media outlets everywhere are reliant on story sources, and no reporter is going to risk cutting off any of those sources if it can at all be prevented. Sometimes there’s no choice, but the reason has to be far more substantive than it is here.
As I said, it’s difficult to argue in favor of Washington’s nickname and say it shouldn’t be retired. And some day, hopefully sooner than we think, it will be.
Until then, even though it may get under our skin, it’s still Redskins.