NPR to limit use of ‘potentially offensive’ Washington football team name

Washington professional football team owner Daniel Snyder. Photo by Homer McFanboy
Washington professional football team owner Daniel Snyder
Photo by Homer McFanboy

National Public Radio has become the latest media outlet to take a stance on the controversial name of the Washington professional football team. NPR will not prohibit use of the R-word, but will limit the use of the word to put the term in line with other potentially offensive language by directing reporters to avoid using the word on air or in print unless needed for clarity.

Mark Memmot, NPR’s standards editor, announced the new policy in a memo to employees last Friday. The memo states: “NPR News does not plan to prohibit the use of the full team name. The team’s name is the name and our job is to report on the world as it is, not to take a position or become part of the story.

“Our policy on potentially offensive language states that ‘as a responsible broadcaster, NPR has always set a high bar on use of language that may be offensive to our audience. Use of such language on the air [and online] has been strictly limited to situations where it is absolutely integral to the meaning and spirit of the story being told.’”

In writing about the guidelines, NPR’s ombudsman Edward Schumacher-Matos, who recommended the new policy, called it a “significant change.” NPR has now become the “first large national news organization to pull back on the use of a name that is a slur to many Native Americans.” Schumacher-Matos added that “I suspect that, in practice, NPR will rarely, if ever, use the R-word again. Or, it will be couched in some way. What we are witnessing is a shifting media consensus on how to define and use a word with racial implications.”

According to the website Change the Mascot, launched by the Oneida Indian Nation as a national campaign “to end the use of the racial slur ‘redskins’ as the mascot and name of the NFL team in Washington, D.C.,” more than 40 media outlets have either made an editorial decision to not use the name or have written editorials in support of a name change. Local media outlets banning the R-word include Washington City Paper, The Washington Post editorial page, DCist, Richmond Free Press and Washington Business Journal.

While this newspaper has not banned the name, Washington Jewish Week has editorialized that team owner Daniel Snyder should change the name (June 25, 2014 editorial: “Unsportsmanlike Conduct”). The Diamondback, the independent daily student newspaper of the University of Maryland, College Park — the same school that Snyder dropped out of at the age of 20 — has also written that the franchise should change the name. The editorial states that a name change “would move our culture forward instead of backward, and that’s an opportunity we should always take.”

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