There's an interesting post up on NPR's website right now talking about whether or not media outlets have a responsibility to avoid using the name of Washington DC's NFL team. Ombudsman Edward Schumacher-Matos looks at everything from the history of the name and the opinions of Native American tribes and representatives to the question of whether or not the name will even last much longer.
My first reaction, and that of most colleagues I consulted, was "Give me a break," and to agree with the newsroom and listener McGehee: NPR reports. It is up to society to change the usage of the name, or to the team to change the fact of it—not NPR.
But as I sifted further through the arguments, I discovered that the answer is not so easy. It turns on how you answer several more questions and weigh their importance.
The word "redskins" is a racial slur. No doubt about it. But is it in the context of the team's 80-year-old name? Do most Americans think anything negative about Indians when they cheer, jeer or just say the name? What do most Native Americans hear in the name? Are the protesters just overzealous advocates long on "political correctness" and short on humor? Is there any proven harm being done to Natives? Or, relatedly, have we made mascots out a defeated people without asking them how they feel about it? On what side does the history of the name fall?
Those are just the factual questions. There is a moral one, ethics and morality not being the same thing. Is there a deeper moral issue of right and wrong at stake here, no matter what polls or studies show? If so, at what point does a news medium, especially a publicly supported one, have a responsibility to take a moral position? Or is its higher moral responsibility the professionally ethical one of being journalistically neutral?
It's long, but it's a very detailed look at the issue and it's worth a read.