What’s in a word? When it comes to a Washington, D.C., NFL team … It’s a loaded debate. But when it comes to federal law, well, there’s a consensus in Congress that it’s time to modernize the language.
This is Trahant Reports.
Last week The Washington Post published a poll that said 9 out of 10 Native Americans were ok with the name of DC’s professional football team.
Whoa! That’s really one-sided — and it’s a so-called scientific poll that does not pass the small test. Why? First it’s a base idea to ask Native people for permission to use a dictionary-defined slur. Wrong is wrong. But getting past that, there is the problem of polling Native Americans. The Post said it surveyed 504 Native Americans nationally with a sampling error of 5.5 percent.
Sorry. That’s not possible. I won’t go into details, but at one newspaper where I worked we talked about surveying tribal members nationally and to make it demographically sound the sample size would have had to be ginormous in order to work. My publisher’s answer: “Too expensive.”
I know the Post poll is stunningly wrong because I have 40 years of reporting in all parts of the country. Are there Native Americans who don’t care which name the football team uses? Of course. But 9 out of 10? Not even remotely possible.
Speaking of words, President Barack Obama signed into law last week a bill to clean up the language in federal statutes. The measure was introduced by Rep. Grace Meng, a New York Democrat, and passed by Congress, get this, unanimously. Gone are the dated words for Asian Americans, African Americans, Alaska Natives, and Native Americans.
As the United States becomes more diverse it’s time for the language to evolve, too. As Rep. Meng says it’s time for insulting words to be a thing of the past.
It’s interesting that The Washington Post and the NFL team owner Dan Snyder are digging in on an opposite course. And that has sparked a newspaper civil war, of sorts. Sunday The New York Times asked its readers — especially Native Americans — to weigh in on the debate. The newspaper said it was time to explore the question, “who decides?” about the use of the R word.
Then again when it comes to that word that question still may be decided by the federal judiciary. The Courts have ruled that the team should lose its trademark because the name is a patently offensive. The team is actually hoping the Supreme Court will weigh in sooner rather than later. I have always thought the strategy in this case to be genius because it says, “Go ahead. Keep the name,” you just can’t trademark (and make money from it).
Take away that federal trademark protection — and you can be sure the team will change the name rather quickly.
What’s in a word? I hope the answer is not just more money.
I am Mark Trahant reporting.