Redskins: The Elephant in the Room

The PR flacks are earning their salaries this week as Beacon Press promotes a new book that reveals the backstory about how owner George Preston Marshall refused to integrate the Washington DC football team called The Redskins.

The book is gaining traction, judging from stories on ESPN, The Washington Post and NPR.

Marshall clung to his racist policies for 30 years, and in 1962 bowed to political and social pressure to hire a Black player. The author, Thomas G. Sullivan, told NPR, “he never hired a black player from 1932 until 1962 when he was forced to.”

Sullivan adds that when Marshall died, “he left $10 million to a private foundation that had a rider that said this money is supposed to go to needy children on one condition, that no money promotes integration.”

The stories I purloined from the web frame Marshall as an unapologetic racist.

But none of the stories I found thus far bothers to examine the Elephant-in-the-Room. The team name embodies the worst kind of stereotyping in its slanderous moniker of American Indians as Redskins.

Listening to the NPR broadcast on Sunday, I was struck that no one mentioned American Indians. I checked the transcript. “Redskins” was mentioned 9 times without any note of the mascot name that dishonors native peoples.

I am an avid public radio and television fan, and will jump to NPR’s defense when necessary. But I can’t be silent for this lapse in judgment.

Reporting on news means writers and editors have to make judgments continually about what gets included in a story and what gets left behind.

Framing news is more then what gets punched up in a news story. It also means the omission of details.

In this case the omission is key: by ignoring in their stories the elephant-in-the-room—the name Redskins—journalists are participating in framing-by-omission and failing their readers.


About Cynthia Coleman Emery

Professor and researcher at Portland State University who studies science communication, particularly issues that impact American Indians. Dr. Coleman is an enrolled citizen of the Osage Nation.
This entry was posted in authenticity, framing, Indian, journalism, news bias, writing and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Redskins: The Elephant in the Room

  1. Clark says:

    Team names typically have a positive connotation or are associated with things that are brave and fearless. If someone wanted to name a team after me or my ancestors, i would feel honored, and if they came up with a caricature/mascot to represent the team that was humorous, I would appreciate the humor and not be offended in the least.

    It is your choice to be offended because it fits the picture you want people to form of you as the downtrodden. Get over yourself, please.


  2. David says:

    I don’t choose to be offended by the use of a derogatory term to describe my people, it is simply offensive. I am not downtrodden, I do not feel honored, I am offended. Nothing is funny about the caricature of the Washington football team, nor is it particularly noble. I suppose when someone uses derogatory terms to describe your family that is OK Clark? Your lack of empathy is showing.


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