Monday, July 27, 2015

3 comments Here's a Scorching Hot Take About the Redskins Naming Controversy

Careful, I don't want you to burn yourself. There is an old, old hot take coming from Mike Sielski who gives no-nonsense looks at Philadelphia sports for Philly.com. Well, maybe this isn't a no-nonsense look at Philadelphia sports (it's more for Washington D.C. sports), and it's more nonsense-filled than no-nonsense, but that's okay. See, his hot take says that reporters and sportswriters not only should use the term "Redskins" even if they find it offensive, but they have a journalistic obligation to use the word. They are being dishonest to their readers by simply referring to the Redskins team as "Washington." There is also something about being an unreliable narrator, which only proves the author may not know what a true unreliable narrator is.

The Eagles play the Washington Redskins on Saturday.

That sentence wouldn't appear on the editorial page of The Washington Post, or under the bylines of various sports columnists around the country, or in the student newspaper at Neshaminy High School in Bucks County. Those publications and people have decided that the word "Redskins" is so offensive, as a slur against Native Americans, that they will not use it.

No more offensive than the way Daniel Snyder runs the Redskins, but that's beside the point (puts up the tag about Daniel Snyder being a terrible owner). 

To these writers and media outlets, the NFL team in the nation's capital is always "Washington,"
And nobody is confused by them being called "Washington" because there is only one NFL team in Washington and that is the Redskins. I don't even notice when a columnist uses "Redskins" or "Washington" and not the word Redskins. Maybe I'm super-racist and am not aware of how racist I am. Otherwise, if a writer doesn't want to use the word then it is up to him or her. I only notice when a writer does something stupid like Gregg Easterbrook does and writes "R*dsk*ns" to where it calls attention to the fact he's using the word, but not really. 
never "the Redskins," and they are of course free to take such a principled stand.

Except they aren't free to take this principled stand. 

It's just that they really shouldn't.
See? They are free to take this stand, except not really. 
Here's why: This idea might come off as old-fashioned, especially in our diverse and ever-expanding media world,

Usually when a writer says he's going to come off "old-fashioned" he is about to complain about others censoring what he wants to say that some find offensive, clinging to old ideas against the use of new ideas or knows what he is about to write is a load of crap but wants to make it seem like the idea is tied to old values and not backwards thinking.

but if you're a reporter or a columnist or a newspaper or a magazine or a news website or maybe even an independent blogger or pretty much anyone who practices what can be called journalism, your primary responsibility ought to be the same: Report the facts as accurately and completely as possible, present them as accurately and completely as possible, and don't let any agenda - political, social, personal - get in the way of those goals.
 
Absolutely. I'm going to write two sentences as if I were a sportswriter or journalist and you as the reader tell me if by changing a single word if I have let any agenda get in the way of reporting the facts accurately and completely. 

"The Redskins announced today that they were going to be benching Robert Griffin and Jay Gruden would be the new starting quarterback, while Jim Haslett will take over head coaching duties. The Redskins have decided to put Robert Griffin on the trade block." 

"Washington announced today that they were going to be benching Robert Griffin and Jay Gruden would be the new starting quarterback, while Jim Haslett will take over head coaching duties. Washington has decided to put Robert Griffin on the trade block." 
So in substituting "Washington" for "Redskins" how in the hell have I let any agenda I have affect how the facts are presented? Are the facts more incomplete now that I didn't call them the "Redskins"? Does the reader become confused about the news I am presenting? Not at all. So while if I refused to use the word "Redskins" then I would obviously have some sort of social agenda, it has not and it will not, affect the news or reporting that is contained in these sentences. There is no commentary involved and the reader doesn't get different news simply because I don't use the word "Redskins." 
You start with that foundation, and you build your news story, your analysis, your commentary (however mealy-mouthed or strident) from there. That's the promise you make to your readers.
The problem with banning "Redskins" as a reference to Washington's football team, then, is that you're breaking that promise right off the bat.

But using "Redskins" or "Washington" isn't breaking the promise, it's simply referring to the NFL football team in Washington by one name rather than the other. That's all. I don't care if someone uses the word "Redskins" or not. It doesn't matter to me. As long as they are called the "Redskins" I will probably use the term. But the use of "Redskins" or "Washington" doesn't affect the overall reporting by a journalist like the author wants to believe happens. 

You're revealing immediately that, in what's supposed to be your role as a reliable narrator, you are actually unreliable.
The definition of an unreliable narrator is a narrator whose credibility has been seriously compromised.
It's a narrator who can't be trusted because the narrator makes mistakes, speaks with bias and lies. How in the process of reporting a story about the Redskins is the narrator lying, making a mistake in his report or having a bias when simply referring to the team as "Washington"? The information is the same and nothing is being withheld from the reader.
You're telling your readers: We have a principle or an agenda that goes beyond informing you. In fact, we'll withhold information from you if we believe it runs counter to that agenda.

What information is being withheld? If anything, a journalist is being reliable in allowing the reader to see off the bat he won't use the term "Redskins" because he/she finds the term offensive. A reader can catch on quickly to an unreliable narrator and the narrator is still considered unreliable, but in the case of journalists reporting on the Redskins, there are no lies or a bias that can come from not using the term "Redskins." The information is the same no matter which term the journalist uses. 

Once a news organization places such advocacy ahead of thorough, precise, honest reporting, it fails to stick to the fundamentals of journalism, and it puts its credibility at risk

How does Peter King fail to stick to the fundamentals of journalism by calling the Redskins "Washington" in his columns? He's reporting the same information he would otherwise if he did call them the "Redskins," but he's just not using the term. 
This author is taking a no-nonsense approach and filling the reader's eyes with nonsense. As long as a journalist isn't secretly creating fake stories that make the Redskins look bad because they won't change their team name (which there is no evidence any journalist who won't use the term "Redskins" is doing this), there is no advocacy being placed ahead of journalism. 

But there is at least a general consensus in our society and culture about which words rise to the level of vulgarity, and that consensus hasn't been reached yet with respect to "Redskins" - at least, not as this particular sports franchise still uses the word.

Fine, it's not a vulgar word as defined by the FCC. I would love to read how the author can explain simply referring to the Redskins as "Washington" is hurting a journalist's credibility. He won't do that. He prefers to simply state that it makes a journalist who won't use the R-word look like an unreliable narrator or as lacking credibility, but won't explain how the information given to the reader by an author who won't use the R-word is different to cause this imprecise, dishonest reporting. 

Remember: No one's suggesting that, for all his faults, owner Daniel Snyder wants to retain the franchise's name for the express purpose of demeaning or mocking Native Americans.

Unintended consequences. Snyder knows some people are offended by the word and regardless of whether he is retaining the name because he doesn't want to change it or because he wants to mock Native Americans is irrelevant. So regardless of his intentions, some Native Americans feel demeaned or mocked. 

I like how the author doesn't give a shit about the unintended consequences of Daniel Snyder keeping the Washington team name as the "Redskins," but he creates unintended consequences that don't actually exist when referring to journalists who report on the Redskins but call the team "Washington." Daniel Snyder doesn't mean to mock Native Americans, but journalists who don't use the term "Redskins" are lying to their readers and putting their credibility at risk. Got it. 

(Does Snyder want to continue making millions of dollars by keeping the name and its recognizable tradition? Sure. Does he want to avoid upsetting the team's fans and sacrificing ticket sales? Absolutely. That makes him rather greedy, which means he's pretty much just like any other NFL owner.)

This is pure speculation, but I would imagine Daniel Snyder would sell as many t-shirts and sell as many tickets to games if the Redskins were called the "Washington Bureaucrats." Okay, maybe not that EXACT name, but you get the point. There is tradition behind the team name, but fans tend to get over things and re-naming the team gives them a chance to buy all new Washington apparel. 

The objections to the name are grounded in the notion that the word itself is offensive, no matter how or why it's used or why the franchise won't change it, and therefore it should not appear in print or online.

And some journalists choose to not use the term "Redskins" which doesn't change the meaning of what they write at all. The information is still the same. 

But if we're to apply that logic to similar terms or words, there should have been media who referred to this former NFL quarterback as Chris Guy Who Went To Louisville. See if you can find anyone who did.

Okay, so it's really hard to take this guy seriously when he writes shit like this. For a guy who writes in a "no nonsense" fashion these are two sentences full of nonsense. Chris Redman's name was "Chris Redman," so that's why he was referred to in that fashion. He could change his name, but it's not considered to be offensive like "Redskins" is deemed offensive. One is the name of a professional sports team and the other is the last name of a human. I don't see the parallel being drawn. 

I'm not arguing that the franchise should change its name or that it shouldn't,

Of course not. A person would be silly to think deeming those who refuse to use the term "Redskins" as lacking credibility and being dishonest is even close to supporting the Washington Redskins not change their team name. There is a much stronger parallel to Chris Redman having to change his name because no one finds it offensive. 

and I'm not arguing that it's wrong for a media member to support a name change and say so publicly.

Support the name change and do it publicly, but just don't write it down, then go about doing your job. That's the key. Support the name change. That's fine. Just don't use the term "Washington" in place of "Redskins" because that throws all journalistic credibility out the window. 

But I am arguing that even if Snyder were refusing to change the name solely because he was an overt bigot and racist, the journalistic responsibility to provide information to news consumers supersedes the desire to avoid offending anyone.

The information shouldn't change if the author is using the term "Redskins" or "Washington." I'm not sure how this is so confusing. 

"Redskins" is the official name of a franchise in the National Football League. It is a fact. You report facts.

They also play in Washington D.C. and calling them "Washington" is also reporting a fact. It's a very weak argument to claim journalistic credibility is being ruined by using "Washington" in place of "Redskins." This stand against the use of the R-word is just a refusal to use the word, not the very basis upon which a journalist discusses the Washington Redskins. Using the word or not using the word should not affect the coverage. 

You call them the Washington Redskins because it's their name, and because that's supposed to be your job.

If a journalist can call them the "Redskins" then why not call them "Washington"? And it's not necessarily "your job" to refer to the Washington Redskins as the "Redskins." The job is to present information about the NFL team in an accurate fashion. Calling them "Washington" should have no effect on that end goal.

3 comments:

Chris said...

As a skins fan I will say I can understand how the name can be seen as racist and offensive. It doesn't offend me but that doesn't really mean anything since I'm not one to be easily offended and the word redskin has never and will never be referred to as a derogatory term to call a mid 20's white man. The team could change the name and I would really have no massive issue with it. They are my hometown team and though they regularly disappoint me I would still root for them.

My only issue comes when arrogant sportswriters get on their moral soapbox and pontificate about how they are finally taking a stand and refusing to use the word in their articles. In this case of most of these writers they were fine using the word Redskins for years before the name controversy popped back up again in the media. So good for them for taking a stand but if they truly cared they would refuse to print the name all the time, not just when it's convenient for them to seem progressive and forward thinking.

Ericb said...

When discussion football with friends I usually, except for the New York teams, refer to teams by their city. Most people I know do as well.

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