- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 3, 2003

The Cleveland Indians, Washington Redskins and Atlanta Braves may appear once again in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, which had banned American Indian sports mascots from its pages for nine years.

The names — along with tomahawks, feather headdresses and other pop-culture icons of the American Indian — have offended some activist groups. They say they’re racially offensive and psychologically damaging.

The Star Tribune’s editors, however, face a journalistic decision: Should they opt for sensitivity or accuracy? The paper could spare the feelings of some American Indians, but compromise their own credibility in the process.

“At a time when newspaper accuracy and balance are constantly challenged, our commitment to direct and straightforward reporting has to be the priority,” editor Anders Gyllenhaal wrote to his staff Friday.

“This isn’t nearly as much about Indian names as it is about the paper’s responsibility toward accuracy and realism,” he wrote. “Over the past decade, sensitivity over language has increased dramatically with the rise in conflicts among global religions, bitter divisions in the Mideast, cultural wars at home. When there’s an outright ban of any words on one topic, it becomes difficult to justify why we rely on mere guidance on other topics.”

The paper announced their intentions to 10 Indian tribal groups in Minnesota and are waiting for reaction to their memo, which was published in part Saturday.

“Nothing has happened yet. We’re still talking this out, we’re still in discussion phase,” said a Star Tribune spokesman yesterday.

But the taste police are afoot. The paper is formulating guidelines on the use of mascot names, which ideally leave ethnic feelings and sound editorial practices in harmony.

Slang won’t cut it. Writers will not be allowed to use “Skins” for Redskins. And “Chief Wahoo,” the vintage Cleveland Indian logo, will be a no-show. The paper would replace the image of the war-whooping cartoon head with a letter “I.”

Other papers maintain their moratorium on names of the “Injun” persuasion.

“We haven’t used any Native American mascot names for some time,” said a spokesman for the Portland-based Oregonian newspaper yesterday. “That’s been our policy for years.”

The Seattle Times and the Nebraska-based Lincoln Journal Star use nicknames, but ban accompanying images deemed offensive. The Kansas City Star has banned Chief Wahoo, and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer allows some columnists to use the names if they are in an op-ed context. (The Washington Times has no ban on mascot names; Vikings, Yankees, Rebels and Giants, among other names that offend some people and thrill others, are OK, too.)

Meanwhile, the South Dakota-based Native American Journalists Association has asked all U.S. newspapers to stop using American Indian mascot references by 2004. The group has asked Star Tribune Managing Editor Scott Gillespie to appear at their annual convention in two weeks to explain the paper’s position.

Mascots are not the only troublesome spot, however. NAJA offers its own press recommendations in “The Reading Red Report,” a new two-year study of newspaper coverage of Americans Indians.

Journalists treat Indians as “historic figures” rather than people, with most reporters relying on old “elementary-school lessons” as background, the NAJA report states. The group criticizes newspapers for misspelling tribal names and using puns in headlines — particularly on those stories dealing with mascots.

NAJA’s headline cops took the Chicago Sun-Times to task, for example, for using “Could be time for another powwow.” The Los Angeles Times was cited for “Name flap ruffles feathers” and The Washington Post for “A blanket ban on Indian names blatantly offensive.”

Contact Jennifer Harper at [email protected] or 202/636-3085.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times is switching its third-party commenting system from Disqus to Spot.IM. You will need to either create an account with Spot.im or if you wish to use your Disqus account look under the Conversation for the link "Have a Disqus Account?". Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide