When the reigning Super Bowl champions travel to Landover, Maryland in week five of the upcoming NFL season, don’t expect the team’s hometown newspaper to acknowledge their opponent by name. The sports editor of the Seattle Times vows to censor the word “Redskins” in his section of the paper.
“The most controversial name in sports won’t appear again in The Seattle Times‘ print edition or on the seattletimes.com home pages as long as I am sports editor,” Josh Katzowitz writes in the Seattle Times. “It’s time to ban the use of ‘Redskins,’ the absurd, offensive and outdated name of the NFL team in Washington, D.C.”
First he banishes the Oxford comma–then the Redskins. What words and punctuation marks will the editor’s zealous red pen strike through next?
With the word “Redskins” appearing in the line immediately following the announcement of the ban, it’s unclear whether Katzowitz seeks to disappear a word or appear as a hero. The grandstanding editor joins prominent sports writers Peter King, Bill Simmons, and Tim Graham in consciously excising “Redskins” from their articles.
“Since becoming sports editor five years ago, I’ve told myself that a decision 20 years ago by The Seattle Times went far enough,” Katzowitz penitentially writes of the the paper’s tardiness in recognizing censorship as progressive. “Back in the early 1990s, we decided to minimize the use of the name. We allowed it once per article and kept it out of headlines and photo captions. The decision felt progressive at the time, but now we need to go further.”
And further still tomorrow? Padres? Fighting Irish? Vikings? Canucks?
The editor’s decision comes a day after the federal Office of Patents withdrew trademark protection for the Redskins. The 2-1 ruling by the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board claims that federal law “prohibits registration of marks that may disparage persons or bring them into contempt or disrepute.” Somewhere else the feds say that “Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech,” so the Redskins may benefit in their appeal from this apparent contradiction.
Their position also benefits from the history behind the name. Far from an attempt to insult Native Americans, the name stems from an attempt to cynically glom onto the popularity of baseball. Sharing a stadium in their inaugural 1932 season with the Boston Braves, the team now known as the Washington Redskins did as the New York Yankees, Cincinnati Reds, Pittsburgh Pirates, and most franchises in the fledgling NFL–yes, those were the names of NFL teams–had done in naming themselves after the local baseball team. When the team moved about a mile from Braves Field to Fenway Park in 1933, they ditched the “Braves” moniker for one more evocative of their new landlord. They became the Boston Redskins in homage to the Boston Red Sox, a change that enabled them to retain the Indian motif while positioning themselves as football’s version of the Red Sox.
While the Red Sox may have been offended (or flattered) back then, few Americans today regard the nickname as so outrageous as to support its removal. A Public Policy Polling survey released earlier this year found less than one in five Americans favoring a name change. The PPP poll reported that 71 percent of respondents support keeping the “Redskins” name. Of greater importance, the owner of the Washington Redskins has emphatically vowed to keep the name.
Dan Snyder is free to call his 82-year-old football team the Redskins. The Seattle Times is free to call them the DC Redacteds. Their readers are free to laugh at the posturing.