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Take 2

A different spin on sports by The Seattle Times staff and readers.

June 18, 2014 at 6:30 PM

Why we’re banning Redskins in The Seattle Times

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.

It’s time to ban the use of “Redskins,” the absurd, offensive and outdated name of the NFL team in Washington, D.C.

Past time, actually.

We’ll probably receive scathing emails, letters, phone calls and reader comments telling me we’re too PC, that the name actually honors Native Americans or that we have no right to change a team’s official name.

Everyone’s entitled to an opinion – even if I don’t buy it.

We’re banning the name for one reason: It’s offensive. Far from honoring Native Americans, the term colors an entire race. Many Native Americans consider it an outdated label placed on their people.

Randy Lewis, a member of the Colville Confederated Tribes who is a board member for United Indians, didn’t pull any punches when asked what he thought.

“I find it as offensive as black people find the N-word,” he said. “They say they’re trying to dignify or honor something with it. It doesn’t dignify us. It doesn’t honor us. It doesn’t make us feel good about ourselves.”

Lewis, who is in his 60s, acknowledges that some Native Americans, particularly from his generation, accept and even embrace the name.

“But our younger people find it offensive, and they’re the ones who are inheriting this world,” he said. “If they find it offensive, damn right, take it out.”

So we are going to do just that.

Brian Howard, a legislative associate with the National Congress of American Indians, is 26 years old and attended school in Arizona off the reservation.

“I’ve witnessed and experienced first-hand many of the stereotypes, perceptions and racism aimed at Native people, including the R-word,” Howard said. “As long as I have a breath of life, I will keep opposing this.”

Since becoming sports editor five years ago, I’ve told myself that a decision 20 years ago by The Seattle Times went far enough. 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.

Using Native American mascots in sports has been popular for generations, from Indians and Warriors to Braves and Chiefs. The movement to change that began decades ago. The Stanford Indians became the Cardinal, Seattle University Chieftains the Redhawks and Eastern Washington Savages the Eagles. The same thing happened at the high-school level. Recently, Port Townsend decided to change its nickname from Redskins, triggering a debate that we covered last year.

Wellpinit, a small high school near Spokane, is the only one in the state still using it. We won’t use its name, either.

Only one other name in our state comes close – Red Raiders, the nickname for Bellingham High School. That, like Redskins, had Native Americans roots, complete with a warrior mascot, according to Bellingham athletic director Chad Larsen. When the school was renovated in the late 1990s, the school board tried to rehabilitate its mascot, adopting a red-hawk logo but keeping the name.

“We made the decision to move away from Native American symbolism,” Larsen said. “Every piece of graphic art was switched over. There is no lingering symbolism at our school.”

Some argue that if you ban Redskins, you have to ban all other Native American mascots. I don’t agree. Tomahawks (Marysville-Pilchuck) and Totems (Sammamish of Bellevue) don’t generate the same visceral reaction. Some even argue other names that supposedly honor ethnic or religious groups must be banned if we go down this slippery slope. They say Fighting Irish, Vikings and Quakers shouldn’t be used. But those don’t have the same negative connotations.

The debate about the controversial name for Washington’s NFL team has heated up in recent months, and the calls to ban it have gathered momentum. Seattle Times columnist Larry Stone writes that changing the name is long overdue and inevitable. Tribal leaders, politicians and others have called for change. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office ruled Wednesday that the Redskins’ name is “disparaging of Native Americans” and should not be allowed trademark protection. Both the NFL and franchise owner Daniel Snyder so far have refused to budge.

We can’t control what they do, but we can control what is delivered to your doorstep and what is highlighted on our website.

We’re not the only newspaper that has decided against using it. The Oregonian in Portland and The Kansas City Star banned it in the 1990s, and The Orange County Register recently did, too. I suspect that list will swell.

We’ll allow the name in stories like this that deal with the controversy. The Associated Press news service we subscribe to still allows it, and we have automated online feeds that we aren’t able to monitor 24/7. Still, we will remove the name from articles published in print or edited for our website.

Agree or disagree, we’d like your opinion. You can reach me by email (dshelton@seattletimes.com), phone (206-464-8284), regular mail (Sports Editor, 1000 Denny Way, Seattle, WA 98109), or simply add a comment on this blog post.

Still, your feedback won’t change our decision. Some things are too important to be put to a vote.

Want to be a reader contributor to The Seattle Times’ Take 2 blog? Email your original, previously unpublished work or proposal to Sports Editor Don Shelton at dshelton@seattletimes.com or sports@seattletimes.com. Not all submissions can be published. Opinions expressed are those of authors, and The Times reserves the right to edit and publish any submissions online and/or in print.

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