Slate will no longer refer to the Washington “Redskins” football team

In a nod to the growing movement to force Washington, DC’s football team, the Washington Redskins, to change its name, Slate magazine has decided to no longer refer to the team as the “Redskins.”

Nomenclature, and overall messaging – words – in politics are important.  So I don’t fault native American activists for trying to change something they see as wrong.  I do, however, find Slate’s approach novel, and curious. Here’s the title to their story announcing this:


You could get into the question of whether a news service should take sides on a story.  Then again, the media takes sides all the time.  For example, the media doesn’t feel that it needs to give both sides to a story about whether one race is genetically inferior.  And reporters in recent years have stopped treating the “are gays pedophiles” argument as anymore more than a right-wing smear (previously, we/I had to go on TV and debate whether we were pedophiles). So it’s not like the media is every fully impartial.

Having said that, this reminds me of the battle to change the word “illegally alien” to “undocumented immigrant.”  Personally, I have a linguistic and intellectual problem with both phrases.  Illegal alien is too negative, and I’d argue that it’s the “alien” part that’s the big problem, not the “illegal.”  Illegal immigrant gets you closer to accuracy.  The problem I have with “undocumented immigrant” is that it waters down the real issue.  This isn’t someone who has documents, has citizenship, and just happened to lose his documents.  It’s someone who crossed the border, and came into this country, illegally.  I don’t fault immigration activists for pushing the use of the new phrase, as it definitely helps them and their cause.  I just find the phrase not entirely accurate.


Then there’s my undergrad college, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.  There had been a controversy for years about our school symbol, an Illini Indian chief named Chief Illiniwek (Illinois was named after the Illini Indians).  And rather than being some goofy mascot of a guy in a silly costume jumping around like an idiot with a tomahawk – he wasn’t permitted to do anything demeaning like a typical college mascot – Chief Illiniwek was actually someone who was carefully trained to perform a rather difficult dance, based in part on a combination of native dances, while wearing a traditional, authentic Sioux war costume.  It was really quite amazing, and beautiful, to behold. it didn’t mock, or make fun of, Native Americans at all.

Because of the pressure, U of I retired the chief in 2007.  And while I recognize that some native groups found it offensive, as someone not Native American I found the impact of the chief to be quite the opposite of what they alleged.  He reminded of my state’s Indian past, the wardrobe was stunning, and the dance beautiful and mesmerizing.  I can appreciate that some native Americans were offended, but to date I think they did more harm than good in this particular case, as they removed something that was actually reminding people in a respectful way about our past, and their history.

The question becomes what the ultimate purpose is is going after these mascots, and I think that’s to eliminate defamation.  In some cases, the use is defamatory, in some cases it’s not.  My junior high’s mascot was the Spartans, and I was honored as a Greek that they had borrowed something from our past.  Now, had they shown him as some idiot, then yes I’d have been offended.  Context matters.

As for the Redskins?  The name is based on a slur.  It’s hard to argue against that.  Even if the name isn’t intended to be a slur today, it kind of reminds me of people arguing that it’s okay to use the word “f*g” because they don’t mean gay people, they just mean weak effeminate guys.  Well, maybe.  But the word is still a slur.  I’m just not sure how you get around that fact, or the name “Redskin.”

CyberDisobedience on Substack | @aravosis | Facebook | Instagram | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. .

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