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King, Simmons take an important stand by not using controversial nickname

Peter King writes about 2.5 million words for his weekly MMQB column, so there’s a chance due to eyes glazing over that I missed an earlier mention. However, since the Washington football team didn’t play yesterday, his only reference was in a prediction for tonight’s game.

“Washington 31, Philadelphia 23. Robert Griffin III and Mike Vick set a land-speed record for number of plays (2,349) in a 60-minute game. I don’t trust the Eagles defense.”

Note that King used the nickname for the Philadelphia NFL team, but not for Washington. And he won’t.

Friday afternoon, King declared on his site that he won’t be using “Redskins” anymore.

“I’ve decided to stop using the Washington team nickname. It’s a name you won’t see me use anymore. The simple reason is that for the last two or three years, I’ve been uneasy when I sat down to write about the team and had to use the nickname. In some stories I’ve tried to use it sparingly. But this year, I decided to stop entirely because it offends too many people, and I don’t want to add to the offensiveness. Some people, and some Native American organizations—such as the highly respected American Indian Movement—think the nickname is a slur. Obviously, the team feels it isn’t a slur, and there are several prominent Native American leaders who agree. But I can do my job without using it, and I will.”

King isn’t alone here. Awful Announcing noticed that another high-profile figure, Bill Simmons, referred to the team as the “Washington D.C.’s” in a recent post.

King and Simmons are two heavy hitters. They have a combined 3.3 million followers on Twitter. So when they decide to take a stand, it gets people’s attention.

Indeed, the controversy over the “Redskins” nickname is getting more intense. It should go without saying that it is incredibly derogatory. Various Native American groups have called for it to be eliminated. I believe if a group of people says they are offended by the use of a nickname, it should be changed.

Washington owner Daniel Snyder could make it easy on everyone and change the nickname, as have many college and high school teams have done when it comes to their former Native American labels. Snyder, though, remains steadfast that “Redskins” will stay, adding to his legacy as one of the NFL’s all-time worst owners.

It continues to present a dilemma for news organizations covering the Redskins. The Washington Post never would refer to a Native American congressman “as the redskin representative from Arizona.” Yet it writes about the Redskins daily in its sports section.

ESPN ombudsman Robert Lipsyte addressed the issue in his latest column.

Lipsyte 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.”

Lipsyte, though, didn’t go as far as to say ESPN should stop using the nickname, even though he clearly leans that way. He brings up a good point that news organizations shouldn’t make news. Consciously not using the nickname falls under that category.

Lipsyte also points to ESPN’s business relationship with the NFL, which has Snyder as one of its owners.

“I have retired the routine use of the phrase “conflict of interest” when it comes to ESPN – it’s simply inadequate to the nuances of the, um, conflicts of interest,” Lipsyte writes.

Lipsyte seems to settle for a compromise offered by ESPN.com editor Patrick Stiegman.

“To simply ignore the nickname in our coverage seems like nothing more than grandstanding,” Stiegman said. “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.”

Again, it is hard to argue with that line of thinking. Reporters shouldn’t become the story.

Yet in this case, the nickname is so offensive, it warrants people to start taking a stand. It has to begin somewhere.

Last week, Tony Kornheiser, who wrote the word “Redskins” a zillion times during his long career with the Washington Post, noted on Pardon the Interruption that it likely will take the biggest entities to eliminate the offensive nickname.

“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.”

I disagree. I think writers and bloggers and websites can effect this change. Especially when the writers and bloggers are as big as King and Simmons.

They carry a ton of influence in this business. Perhaps, it will spark a writer or an editor to think, “You know what? Peter King is right. We’re not going to use Redskins anymore.”

King and Simmons obviously feel enough is enough. Expect others to follow their lead.

For more Ed Sherman on sport media, check out ShermanReport.com and follow him on Twitter.

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