SF Chronicle Punts the Word “Redskin”

When the San Francisco 49ers take on the Washington Redskins later this season, at least one Bay Area newspaper will simply refer to the 49ers’ rivals as “Washington.” Editors at the San Francisco Chronicle said they will no longer use the term “Redskin” after the paper’s style council determined it was a racial slur.

“They made a recommendation last week we stop using it,” said Chronicle managing editor Audrey Cooper. “I approved it on Friday and it became effective immediately.”

Cooper said the paper took up the issue after one of the paper’s sports columnists wrote her a letter suggesting a discussion about the usage of the term “Redskin” since it is considered an offensive description by Native Americans.

“In this case we felt pretty strongly that there are other ways to refer to the team,” Cooper said, “and still be clear and accurate about what we’re talking about.”

Cooper said the newspaper would refer to the team as “Washington” and would only use the term “Redskin” when referring to the controversy over the name.

The Chronicle is the latest major newspaper to oust the Redskin name from its pages. Its decision comes the same week Washington owner Daniel Snyder met with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to talk about the name flap, which has even drawn the interest of President Barack Obama who suggested the team might change its name. Earlier this year Snyder vowed a name change would never happen.

On Wednesday, NFL representatives met with members of the Oneida Nation, a Native American tribe that finds the name offensive. The NFL said it would release a statement next week regarding its discussion with the tribe.

Inside the Museum of the American Indian in Novato, executive director Colleen Hicks pointed out a pair of traditional headdresses made of eagle feathers. She said lingerie company Victoria Secrets recently scrapped a plan to have models parading around in negligees with similar headdresses, following protests from Native American groups.

“I actually call it blind prejudice,” said Hicks who is of Cherokee descent, “that people don’t realize that there’s still prejudice toward native people.”

Hicks said she was encouraged by the Chronicle’s decision to drop the Redskin moniker from its pages, calling it a small, important step in the effort to raise awareness about Native American stereotypes.

“How would it be if it was Washington Rednecks?” Hicks asked. “I mean it’s insulting, it’s not about native people.”

Cooper said newspapers are constantly adapting to changes in language, with meanings and perception bending with cultural awareness.

“People who traffic in words like a newspaper,” said Cooper, “we believe words are powerful tools and how we use them is also powerful.”

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