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COLUMN

Watch who you're calling a 'Redskin,' paleface

If nickname goes, the owner, not media or goverment, should decide -- and why stop there?

Saturday, August 30, 2014 - 12:01 am

When North Side High School's football team took the field against Delta Friday night, it did so under the nickname that has identified the institution since it opened in the 1920s.

When The News-Sentinel reports on that and future games, the story was the same.

"They are the North Side Redskins. We've had no conversations about changing it," Fort Wayne Community Schools spokeswoman Krista Stockman said.

"We mean no ill will, but I'm not interested in making political statements," said News-Sentinel Sports Editor Tom Davis.

All of which proves they have more common sense and a better grip on journalism and reality than former Indianapolis Colts Coach Tony Dungy, who recently told the Associated Press that he will try to avoid using the word "Redskins" while broadcasting the team's games during the imminent National Football League season. Some of his peers have said they will do the same, substituting the team's home city of Washington, D.C., for a nickname some consider offensive and even racist.

"I don't have the right to tell Native Americans what's insulting to them," said ESPN's Tom Jackson. "If the name is offensive to a group of people, then do the right thing and change the name. It's as simple as that," agreed CBS' James Brown.

But, of course, the issue isn't that simple at all -- as the three sportscasters should know as well as anyone. If it were, there would be equal outrage over the equally anachronistic names of two historic and widely respected institutions working to benefit fellow African Americans: The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the United Negro College Fund.

There is, in fact, no widespread consensus on the alleged offensiveness of "Redskin." A 2013 USA Today survey found that 79 percent of Americans believed Washington's team should keep its name. Polls of Native Americans, however, have produced mixed results. A 10-year-old survey found that just 9 percent find the term offensive, but more recent polls have produced opposite results, with California State University funding 67 percent find the name racist.

But that's not really the point, anyway.

Objective journalists, as opposed to opinion writers (the role I'm playing as you read this) are paid to report the facts and to keep their own views out of the story as much as humanly possible. Dungy, a many of accomplishment and decency, is certainly entitled to his opinion. He is not supposed to allow his opinion to affect his news judgment, and the fact that he and so many others are not only prepared to do so but are openly proud of it should please no one -- not even those who have legitimate concerns about use of a nickname that may or may not have been intended to honor a former coach but has since fallen into some disrepute, based in part on its historic and often-negative use.

Even worse are self-righteous bureaucrats in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, which in June cancelled the Washington Redskins' trademark as "disparaging to Native Americans." If the ruling stands, team owners will have no legal claim to their own name or logo, potentially costing them untold millions of dollars. Forbes Magazine listed the franchise as the third most lucrative in the NFL in 2013, with a reputed value of $1.6 billion.

"It's so much (expletive) it's incredible. We're going to let the liberals of the world run this world," fumed former Chicago Bears Coach and TV analyst Mike Ditka. "This is so stupid it's appalling . . . the Redskins are part of an American football history."

Maybe, but "Redskins" is more blatantly racial -- or racist -- if you prefer -- than generic nicknames like "Indians" and "Braves" and tribal names such as "Blackhawks," and public opinion seems to be coalescing around the need for a change.

But that decision ultimately is up to no one but the owners, who will profit or suffer accordingly. Pressure from advertisers and fans will and should carry far more weight than the actions of self-appointed censors in the media or government. But why try to solve real racial problems when moral preening is so much easier?

With almost any use of Native American names under fire, even those clearly intended as tributes, the sensitivity must not stop there.

Names like "Titans" and "Giants" could offend midgets. I meant dwarfs.

"Packers" could offend vegetarians.

"Patriots" could offend anarchists.

The Washington "Wizards" -- which was changed from "Bullets" to avoid glorifying urban carnage, could offend the very religious.

"Saints" will offend the very irreligious.

All those animal names have to offend somebody. Why should Bears and Lions and, yes, Colts have to fight each other for our enjoyment?

Apparently the Irish are too busy drinking and brawling to get upset about Notre Dame's nickname.

That's it! More firewater for everybody!

Sorry. My sincere apologies.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Kevin Leininger at kleininger@news-sentinel.com or call him at 461-8355.