As Washington Post sportswriter Dan Steinberg explains: "When GW public policy law professor John Banzhaf suggested a parallel between Jeremy Lin slurs and the nickname of our local NFL franchise, most people either ignored the prof, or made fun of him. A few days ago, veteran WRC anchor Jim Vance made the same comparison though, and he’s probably harder to ignore. He also works for a network that is corporate partners with the Redskins, is pretty close friends with Joe Gibbs, and was part of the panel that once chose the 70 greatest Redskins in honor of the team’s 70th anniversary.."
Vance, in his on-the-air commentary, said: “What I find curious is how some people I’ve talked to are offended by a derogatory term for Asians, but not by the word ‘Redskin.’
He compared those who continue to back the team name with a well-known racist: “His was the kind of single-minded intransigence that mirrored George Preston Marshall, that vile, evil man who once owned the team, and who swore there would NEVER be a Negro playing on his team. Fifty years ago, because of George Preston Marshall, the Redskins [were] the last team in the entire NFL to hire a black player. Marshall wanted Bobby Mitchell, who was the player, to play not for Old D.C., but for Old Dixie."
In closing his commentary, Vance urged: “Fifty years later, do we REALLY want to be the ONLY team in the league with even a question about the appropriateness of our name? Can’t we at least talk about that, without somebody wanting to start a fight for goodness sake?”
Professor Banzhaf agrees, noting actions taken as early as twenty years ago by other DC broadcasters. In the spring of 1992, Michael Douglass, station vice president and general manager of all-news WTOP and adult contemporary WASH FM-97.1, announced a new policy: the stations would no longer use the racially derogatory word "redskins."
"We decided then that we would honor the wishes of Native Americans who view the name [Redskins] as derogatory to them," he said. "We just felt it was the right thing to do," he told the Washington Times.
THE WASHINGTON TIMES then noted: "The station is the first media outlet in the Washington area known to declare the use of the name Redskins officially off limits. The Oregonian, the Portland, Ore., daily newspaper, recently adopted a policy prohibiting the use of sports nicknames that might offend racial, religious or ethnic groups. Earlier this month, American Indians, blacks and Hispanics announced a campaign to persuade Cooke to change the Redskins' name. The National Coalition on Racism in Sports and the Media, representing more than 30 civic groups, also supported a D.C. Council non-binding resolution urging the change, because it is considered racially offensive."
THE WASHINGTON POST likewise reported: ""We have been using a name that has been offensive to Native Americans," Michael Douglass said. "If it is our policy not to use offensive names, then it follows we feel we have to extend that to Native Americans."
Douglas also added a very important point: "It's the minority group that determines what's offensive, regardless of what the majority wants."
The WTOP decision was considered especially significant because, in addition to being a major source for news about the team, the station carried during football season a three-time-a-
Law professor Banzhaf says he is doing more than just complaining about the continued use of the term "redskins." Rather, he is working towards filing an opposition to the renewal of the broadcast license of one or more TV and radio stations which unnecessarily use the R-word - similar to the N-word for African Americans, or the C-word for Asian Americans.
A similar license renewal opposition he helped file many years ago against a DC area station led to the first appearance of African Americans in significant on-the-air roles - one reason why he believes his new project will also be successful.
JOHN F. BANZHAF III, B.S.E.E., J.D., Sc.D.
Professor of Public Interest Law
George Washington University Law School,
FAMRI Dr. William Cahan Distinguished Professor,
Fellow, World Technology Network,
Founder, Action on Smoking and Health (ASH)
2000 H Street, NW, Suite S402
Washington, DC 20052, USA
(202) 994-7229 // (703) 527-8418
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John F. Banzhaf III is a Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University Law School [http://banzhaf.net/]