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Sports journalists denounce Redskins name

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Published on: Wednesday, October 09, 2013

By Tauren Dyson

The University of Maryland convened a panel of national experts to discuss several hot topics in sports — including a Washington Redskins’ name change.

Supporters of the name change, have deemed “redskins” ethnically derogatory and culturally insensitive to Native Americans and have called on the team’s owner, Dan Snyder, to change the name.

Several top sports journalists have refused to use the term.

“Let me tell you, it’s hard not to use the name,” said Christine Brennan, USA Today sports columnist and media personality. “I’ve slipped a few times.”

Brennan’s fellow panelist, Kevin Blackistone, a journalism professor at the University of Maryland and former sports columnist said he adopted the practice of not using the name.

“If the word has showed up in my copy in the past 15 years, it’s because the copy editor didn’t get my message that I don’t use it,” Blackistone said.

Other sportswriters and publications have followed suit. Slate, the Washington City Paper and the Kansas City Star have all stopped using the name “Redskins,” as a protest to the term.

Washington Redskins attorney Lanny Davis cited a 2004 Annenberg poll that found nine out of 10 Natives Americans weren’t insulted by the name. Davis also pointed to an Associated Press poll from April that reported eight out of 10 respondents nationally thought the name should remain as is.

In 1992, when the team was owned by Jack Kent Cooke, prominent American Indians sued to have the name changed, arguing that it went against a federal trademark law, which states that a trademarked name cannot be “disparaging, scandalous, contemptuous, or disreputable.” In 1999, federal judges ruled to cancel the “Redskins” trademark, but on appeal it was found that the name was not a disparagement, and Snyder was allowed to keep the name.

In May, Snyder said he would never change the name. Subsequent lawsuits have done little to bring forth any progress for name change advocates.

Since that time, perhaps as a way of staving off similar legal battles or out of a sense of moral decency, high schools and colleges around the United States have gotten rid of team nicknames that are related to Native Americans.

Panelist Dave Zirin writes and speaks about the intersection of sports and social issues. Not only does he want the team to change its name, he is against the idea of ever “mascoting” Native Americans, claiming it dehumanizes them and turns them into caricatures.

“When you mascot a people, it’s easy to then turn your eye and not notice the reality of how people live,” Zirin said.

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