WASHINGTON – Anyone who read the story The Washington Post published over the weekend, lamenting Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry’s alleged inaction on changing the name of the “Niggerhead” hunting camp his family has frequented for decades, knew that this was not good news for Perry. But few in the mainstream media have pointed out The Post’s own abuse of language in continuing to refer to the D.C. football team by the name “Redskins”— a word that many Indians find just as offensive as many African Americans find the N-word.
On its website, in fact, The Washington Post juxtaposed its stories about Perry next to a story, titled “Redskins on Hold, Escape Win Over Rams.” The newspaper’s editors apparently did not recognize the irony.
Some American Indians have chosen to write letters to The Washington Post to highlight the matter, noting that dozens of other newspapers across the nation have decided to stop publishing the “Redskins” name, and instead refer to the team as “the Washington football team.” Some publications have likewise stopped publishing the derogatory Indian-themed team names of some colleges and other schools as well.
Editors from these other publications have given the reasoning that they know the word is derogatory, and just because the owner of the team, Daniel Snyder, won’t change it, doesn’t mean that they have to publish the offensive word.
According to historical accounts, the word has been long used in a disparaging fashion to describe Indians and likely begun in conjunction with scalping of Indians during colonial times. A group of Indians continues to sue the team in federal court, hoping to challenge its trademark.
Bob Gough, a leader with the Intertribal Council on Utility Policy, wrote to Post Ombusman Patrick B. Paxton to highlight his displeasure: “I saw the top stories listed and could not miss the ironic, unconscious hypocrisy blatantly displayed,” Gough wrote. “I am calling this to your attention, since most folks in Washington, D.C. seem to be completely oblivious to racial offensiveness which your football team’s name still carries in Indian country, yet the first two lead stories decry the use of the ‘N’ word in compound form with another body part.
“Sir, which is worse: That a potential presidential candidate from Texas has a family hunting camp that was once named ‘Niggerhead’ or the Nation’s Capital, where he is hoping to move, still proudly supporting a sports team named ‘Redskins’?
“Your paper’s contra-positioning of ‘Niggerhead’ v. ‘Redskins,’ with expressed concern over only one of these terms, seems sadly, but blatantly racist and hypocritical.”
Paxton has not yet responded to Gough’s concerns and to those from other Indians. An inquiry to Paxton from Indian Country Today Media Network has yet to be returned.
In a coincidence of sorts, Washington Post Sports Columnist Mike Wise, long a critic of the team’s name, wrote a column published October 1 highlighting the injustice of the continued use of the name. In a purposely facetious report from the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI), Wise heard from many Indians and non-Indians alike about their distaste for the “Redskins” name. “People don’t even like that name used around here,” a black security guard explained to Wise. “The name came from scalping. In the old days, they took the skin off the head — blood and everything — to prove they killed an Indian. You learn being here what that name means to a lot of the people here.”
Wise also talked to David Grimes, the NMAI’s assistant building manager, who told the columnist that contractors hired to work on repairs and exhibits at the museum are “told not to wear jerseys, hats or any paraphernalia of any team who uses Native mascots or images.” “Anything Redskins-related or even [Kansas City] Chiefs stuff is not allowed in here,” Grimes told Wise. “Workers are told to be sensitive to that issue.”
It remains to be seen whether Wise – who again noted his views against the team’s name in his own piece – will ask for similar sensitivity from his own newspaper.
The Native American Journalists Association has detailed dozens of instances of news publications that have decided to stop using the R-word in reference to the team.