Why we won’t use ‘Redskins’

Charlotte Observer sports editor Mike Persinger announced Saturday that the Observer will avoid using the name Redskins when referring to Washington, D.C.’s NFL football team. The editorial board doesn’t have much occasion to write about the Washington football team, but should the topic come up in the future, we also won’t use the name. It’s time.

For the Observer’s sports department, this is no small decision. Just a half-dozen other newspapers have adopted such a policy, and the Observer is the first in a city with a significant Washington fan base. Before the Carolina Panthers came along, this was “Redskins Country,” and those long-timers who remain loyal to the team are probably the most likely to consider the 81-year-old nickname a significant part of the franchise’s tradition.

For decades, however, Native Americans have expressed discomfort with the Washington nickname. Perhaps the Observer should have taken a stand sooner. But our slowness in getting here doesn’t change the fact that, for us and a growing number of people, it’s the right place.

To us, the test is simple: If you were to have a conversation with a Native American, would you use the word “Redskins” to describe his or her ethnicity – or in any other way? We wouldn’t. Because it’s a slur.

It doesn’t matter that it’s a word that might once have been acceptable. Words grow up. They grow obsolete. They grow into something that’s distasteful. Or we grow up enough to realize they’ve been distasteful all along.

It also doesn’t matter that there are some, perhaps many, Native Americans who don’t believe it’s a slur. It matters that many do.

Finally, let’s dispose of the what-about-other-names argument. Redskins is not like the college teams named Seminoles or the helicopter named Chinook. Those names honor tribes. They do not denigrate a people.

For all of those reasons, the Observer and this editorial board have made a choice about what it will no longer print. Why, some might ask, are we announcing it? We believe readers should know about significant decisions like this. In this space, we also hope the cumulative rejection of the slur will eventually convince Washington owner Daniel Snyder that this “tradition” has become costly.

We know others will make different choices. If readers want to use the team’s nickname in letters about the controversy, we’ll print them. But the Observer’s sports editors and writers feel that typing that name is no longer the right thing to do. We agree. It’s time. It’s long past time.