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Why I Still Won’t Use ‘R’ Word

A recent poll suggests 90 percent of Native Americans are not offended by the nickname of Washington’s NFL franchise, but that’s not going to change my opinion on this hot-button, societal issue

Imagine walking into an auditorium inside the Navajo Nation in Arizona for an event. There’s a crowd of about 500 Native Americans in the room. You approach the microphone on stage, and the crowd gets quiet, and you say:

“Good evening Redskins!”

Oh … you mean you wouldn’t actually do that. You’d say, “Good evening, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls.” Or, “Good evening, honorable Navajo Nation.”

Because, really, you know that if you greeted a Native American with the name “Redskin,” there’s a chance—a 21 percent chance, according to last week’s Washington Postpoll on the local NFL franchise’s team name—that many in the crowd would feel the term you used to identify them is disrespectful of Native Americans. 

• THE BATTLE OF WASHINGTON: In 2014, The MMQB set out to gauge the real sentiment behind the nickname among Native American leaders and tribal communities across the country. The short answer: It’s complicated

That is exactly what the poll results showed when those who were polled were asked, “In general, do you feel the world ‘Redskin’ is respectful of Native Americans, or not?” One out of five said they thought it was disrespectful.

So knowing a segment of your audience feels a word is something between disrespectful or (according to Merriam-Webster) a slur, why would you continue to use it? Though the results of the Postpoll were more decisive when Native Americans were asked if the term was offensive—90 percent of the respondents said it was not offensive to them—I’m still struck by the intensity of opinion on this issue. If somewhere between 10 and 21 percent of Native American are offended by the team name or find it disrespectful, then why continue to use it?

As many of you know, I wrote before the 2013 season began that I would no longer use the name in my stories and columns. I have not made this a soapbox issue, but I also do not shy away from it. I wouldn’t be writing about it today if it were not for the Washington Postpoll last week. The poll did surprise me, at least the part about 90 percent of Native Americans not being offended by the name.

But that won’t change my opinion on the issue. I stopped using the name because I had become increasingly bothered by using a word that some people felt was insulting. Even though I had expected more Native Americans would be upset by the nickname, the fact that a clear majority are not doesn’t change the fact that it makes me uncomfortable to use the name.

A few months after my article in 2013, a Native American who praised my stance told me a story. This person talked of the leader of the family, a well-respected grandmother, telling a story at family functions. When she was a child, she would come home from school or visits into the town near where they lived, and she would scrub her skin. She told the family that, as a young girl, she didn’t want the color of her skin to be darker than those she would see in town or in school, and she didn’t want to be called a “redskin.” Thus, this Native American hated the name, and felt it was a slur.

Finally: I have not dictated to anyone on our staff at The MMQBwhether they should or shouldn’t use the name. It’s an individual choice. I’m not saying I’m right. I’m saying this is right for me. I don’t want to use what I consider to be a societal epithet. And the results of a poll are not going to change my stance.

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