Could ESPN really not use the nickname ‘Redskins?’ ‘Imagine how painful it is’ to Native Americans

For a minute, can you imagine if during tonight’s Monday Night Football game, Mike Tirico never referred to Washington as “the Redskins?”

What if he just called the team Washington throughout the telecast? Or the “Washington D.C’s,” as Bill Simmons labeled them last week (Awful Announcing with the link) in an apparent protest of the nickname issue.

And then the “Redskins” boycott carried over to the postgame shows, SportsCenter and then beyond? Starting tonight, the offensive nickname never would be uttered again on ESPN.

Just imagine the impact that would have on possibly getting the nickname changed.

Could ESPN do it?

ESPN ombudsman Robert Lipsyte asks that question in his latest column. He writes:

So what if ESPN refused to use the R-word?

That quixotic thought has been bubbling for a while in ESPN’s 150-person Stats & Information Group, where vice presidents Edmundo Macedo and Noel Nash collected information on the history of the team and opposition toward the name and then distributed it to network news managers. It was the start of a campaign to have ESPN stop using the name. Macedo told me that he thought the chances of actually succeeding were currently slim and none, but that it was worth the effort to get people thinking about it.

“Think about the name,” he wrote to me in an email. “Think about the stereotypical connotations around color. We would not accept anything similar as a team nickname if it were associated with any other ethnicity or any other race.

“Over the years, the more I thought about it, the less comfortable I became using it. I’m not sure other Americans have stopped to hear the voices of Native Americans. I can only imagine how painful it must be to hear or see that word over and over, referenced so casually every day.”

Clearly, Lipsyte, like many people, would prefer to jettison the nickname. However, he doesn’t take the ultimate stand here. Instead, he documents the reasons why ESPN will continue to use “Redskins.”

1) ESPN should be covering the news, not making it. Fair enough. The action Macedo proposed would be newsworthy enough to make ESPN a player in a controversy. We’ve been through this before in ESPN’s coverage of NBA player Jason Collins’ coming out. In one case, on “Outside the Lines,” instead of an in-depth look at the implications of Collins’ action, we got a debate on the varieties of religious experience.

Then there was this telling passage:

3) A gesture as aggressive as attacking a famous, long-standing team is antithetical to the ESPN business model. Snyder is a business associate (his Washington radio station is an ESPN affiliate), and the NFL is an important partner. ESPN is a major media corporation with a parent company (Disney) and shareholders. I am still in the early process of exploring the depths and facets of ESPN, but one thing is clear — it is an entertainment company trying to maintain a vigorous journalistic presence. This is no simple matter. This so-called “bifurcation” — business side and journalism side — requires respect and mindfulness.

“I’m from the D.C. area and a fan all my life,” says Rob King, senior vice president of content for ESPN print and digital media, “and I’ve thought about the Generals and the Statesmen as names, even George Washington replacing the Indian on the logo.

“At ESPN, the only thing that really matters is serving fans. NFL fans think of the Washington, D.C.-area franchise as the Redskins. So that informs how we’ll serve them across news, commentary, scores and fantasy coverage. We will use the term Redskins so long as fans expect this to be the nomenclature that drives their rooting experience.

“So hail to ’em.”

The most sensible ongoing strategy I’ve heard is from Patrick Stiegman, vice president and editor-in-chief of, who said: “To simply ignore the nickname in our coverage seems like nothing more than grandstanding. We can use the name of the team, but our best service to fans is to report the hell out of the story, draw attention to the issue and cover all aspects of the controversy.”

Indeed, it seems unlikely that ESPN is going to be a leader here and initiate a boycott. While it is noble to report the controversy, Tony Kornheiser, who wrote the word “Redskins” a zillion times during his long career at the Washington Post, had the most telling observation on Pardon the Interruption:

“I don’t think writers and bloggers and websites can make this happen,” he said, “I do think television networks can make this happen. … To pick two: If ESPN and Fox said ‘We’re not going to use Redskins anymore’ and the NFL tacitly went along with that and didn’t say anything, that would put pressure on CBS and NBC. I think it has to come from the larger institutions.”

Don’t hold your breath, Tony.




3 thoughts on “Could ESPN really not use the nickname ‘Redskins?’ ‘Imagine how painful it is’ to Native Americans

  1. Way to write a very biased, one-sided story. Anything in support of removing it, no matter how little it makes sense makes you exclaim, “Good for them! Well done!” Anything to the contrary and you say, “Yada, yada, fair enough.”

    The bottom line is that most people do not think of Native Americans, what we did to them, or any tribe in any derogatory fashion when you say Redskins. People think of RGIII, they think of Joe Theismann, unfortunately, images of Rex Grossman get conjured up as well.

    I understand that this name may offend some people, no matter what color of their skin is. That is not an excuse to remove a piece of history. If the name still had that offensive overtone without question it should be removed, but it doesn’t. As I previously mentioned, perform a word association with a friend, family member, co-worker or someone on the street and ask them what they think of when you say “Redskins”. You will be flooded with football-related responses.

    And then probably one activist will say, “Racist” or something along those lines. At the end of the day people in 2013 are looking for the next thing to complain about. What’s worse is the lack of self-respect writers have who cover this, and stories like it. Stand by your convictions, don’t cave into pressure about the Redskins name change because you might get some angry tweets in response if you argue the opposite point on Twitter. Whether sportswriters will admit it or not, the majority of them are blatantly disguising their true feelings when it comes to this issue.

    In summary, the name may offend people, but it is a small, small population and they need to move past it. There is too much history with this name.

    Hey Ed, why didn’t you write this post in 2009? Or 2011? Or even a few months ago? That’s right, it wasn’t an issue at those times for you to exploit and act like you actually care about the people who do feel hurt by this.

  2. They don’t mind it. Why should you?
    It honors them. Otherwise, everyone would forget their
    faboulous and credible donation to America.
    Canada even gave them a lot of their land back!

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