To read the tweets from Washington Post reporters on Twitter, the results of the Post poll on the Washington football team’s name were paradigm-shifting—only nine percent of Native Americans surveyed find the team’s name offensive! This cued some general Internet chaos as people rethought deeply held stances and generally rend their garments and gnashed their teeth.
In fact, these results are almost identical to the results of an Annenberg Public Policy Center poll from 12 years ago. Personally, it does nothing to sway my opinion that the name should change: Even assuming that the poll is 100 percent accurate, and using the lowest number for the Native American population from the 2010 census (2,932,248 listed a single race of Native American), that means that 263,902 people find the team name directly offensive. Maybe I’m simple-minded, but that seems like a lot of people to me.
So, yeah, I still firmly believe the team name needs to change. You know what else needs to change, though? The “Pigskins” name that Washington City Paper uses as house style to refer to the team. I’ve been yapping at my editor, Steve Cavendish, about this for months now, and the release of this poll was impetus enough for him to join me here for a point/counter-point on the value of “Pigskins” as designated nom du racism. Steve, what is it that we think we’re accomplishing with this?
Cavendish: First, let me back up. In 2012, the leadership here decided that City Paper would no longer use the mascot’s name because it’s racist. We don’t print the name unless it’s in a direct quotation, and I think it’s the right policy. And the fact that the Post has done a poll doesn’t change the fact that its use in American culture has largely been racist. I understand why they did the poll, but in many ways, it’s immaterial: Unless the Post begins using the term to describe Native Americans in headlines—as in “Hillary Clinton Leads 65-35 Over Trump Among R****** Voters”—all they’ve managed to do is spend poll resources in an election year to prop up Daniel Snyder’s PR machine. So, good job, guys. Good effort.
We started using Pigskins because of our readers. We asked for submissions for an alternative, we took the five best and made logos and asked them what they wanted us to use. They said Pigskins, and it wasn’t really that close (although, I must confess that the Washington Monuments logo looked really cool in a USFL way, but I digress).
I think it gives us something to call them when we need to use a mascot name, often useful in sportswriting. You know, sportswriting… that thing you’re supposed to do instead of conning editors into writing half of your column for you.
Terl: Never heard of it. Is that anything like blogging?
Anyway, my argument here is that using the registered trademarked (usually) name of a football team is equivalent to a direct quotation. By replacing it with a cutesy nickname, you’re letting the team off the hook and softening any impact use of the name should have. It’s like if you quoted some white supremacist jackass in a story but replaced all his uses of the N-word with “ninja.” They want to own the word and be allied with the word? Attach the word to them.
(I also think that typing “the N-word” instead of actually, you know, typing the N-word is silly—it’s obvious that I’m not tossing the epithet around aggressively—but here we are.)
If we don’t want to print the name, I’d vastly prefer to write around it (which I generally try to do) or to use R******* or something. The point of this exercise, it seems to me, should be to emphasize our disagreement with the name, not to replace it with something warm and fluffy.
Cavendish: Well, it’s certainly your prerogative to write around it. In many stories, we do. It’s an option.
And this discussion gets right to the heart of why Snyder and the team ought to change the name: We’re arguing over a pseudonym for the mascot because lots of people don’t want to use it. Beyond the Post’s poll, there’s another, more relevant survey for Snyder. In February, a D.C. Vote–City Paper poll of District residents found that 58 percent consider the mascot offensive. Even if you think you’re in the right by using it, there’s a substantial portion of your customers who don’t. There are people who pump their fists every time they see the video clip of Kirk Cousins yelling “YOU LIKE THAT” who will never, ever buy team merchandise because they are opposed to the logo and the name. Telling them “well, Native Americans in this poll don’t find it offensive” is not going to overcome that.
Isn’t Dan Snyder supposed to be a marketing genius? If they were the Warriors and pulled out those sweet, sweet arrowhead throwback helmets that they wore a few years ago, how many people would go out and buy team swag the instant they’re on sale? A gazillion? (I’m estimating here.)
Terl: Sure, sure. All good points. But also ancillary to the main point I’m making, which is that if you and I both believe that the team name should change (which we do!), why are we so far apart on using Pigskins instead? It still feels to me like it helps to minimize the seriousness of the debate. I’ll continue using it, because it’s house style, but know that I’m putting it in mental air quotes every time.
Cavendish: Fair enough. You don’t have to use Pigskins. You just can’t use That Mascot Which Can’t Be Named. Just out of curiosity, what would you rename the club if you were suddenly running things?
Terl: I used to say Bullets, which was a top-notch Washington team name that’s just lying around. Then I went with Reapers, in honor of Sean Taylor (and because it fits the meter of the fight song). In a blog post suggesting Marvel Comics-based alternative names for the team, I secretly kinda liked Washington War Machine. Currently, I prefer “D.C.” to “Washington,” and I like using singular nouns rather than plural, so my frontrunner is D.C. Gridlock.
Really, as long as the name doesn’t actively offend hundreds of thousands of people, I’m cool with it.
Unless it’s Pigskins.
Follow Matt Terl on Twitter @Matt_Terl.