WASHINGTON — The Washington Redskins long defense of their controversial nickname may soon face its toughest challenge. It’s not the American Indian marketing campaign, the U.S. Trademark ruling or courts that could force change, though.
It’s the Associated Press stylebook.
The AP stylebook review committee is considering whether Redskins is an offensive term and should be removed from its stories. This is not another far-flung paper, liberal magazine, individual TV announcer or other media outlets that frankly don’t matter.
This is the kingpin of American journalism that resonates throughout every newspaper, website and broadcast. This is one of the world’s leading news outlets that reach nearly every country. Maybe AP doesn’t have the power it once wielded before the internet, but there’s still enough to ripple the waters.
Redskins owner Dan Snyder would be smart to lobby the review panel on his team’s behalf. If AP bans the use of Redskins, the term will greatly decrease to exist in the media. And, that will be the first major loss in this long-running dispute that one day leads to the team abandoning the name.
Major change needs one major player to force the issue. American Indians have failed to sway significant public opinion that Redskins is an insult. No corporate titans have joined the boycott. NFL owners have sidestepped the issue, not wanting to intrude in one partner’s business that doesn’t significantly impact theirs.
Snyder fended off the latest challenge after igniting it by saying the team would “never, ever” change. Poking his rivals proved poor judgment and costly, but NFL fans were soon distracted by Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson scandals. The name dispute faded once again as it often has over the past half century when late owner George Preston Marshall altered “Hail to the Redskins” lyrics and quit dressing cheerleaders as squaws in the 1960s after meeting with American Indian leaders.
But opponents have always returned and slowly eroded the name’s support. Maybe it’s only a matter of time before the team finally adopts a new moniker, if only as part of a favorable deal to return to the city for a new stadium in 2027. Perhaps it comes when a new owner succeeds Snyder.
But, AP’s potential ban of Redskins would make it sooner rather than later. Sure, ESPN, the NFL Network and others would still use Redskins and that’s more important nowadays than AP, but know that other major news outlets have boycott sympathizers who might use AP’s decision to re-open discussions in their outlets, if only not to seem sympathetic. After all, AP didn’t have a problem with using Redskins until it now maybe does. Others may follow and eventually that might lead to advertisers worrying over the team’s loss of its brand.
Avalanches begin with a snowflake.
Rick Snider has covered Washington sports since 1978. Follow him on Twitter @Snide_Remarks.