Sean McManus of CBS provided an interesting tidbit in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter: The network will be giving commentators and other personnel the option of deciding whether they want to use a racial slur when referring to a certain Washington-based football team. The controversy over the team’s name has exploded in the last year, and the fact that CBS is thinking ahead to concerns about commentators who might feel uncomfortable with using a racial slur on air is telling.
While this policy doesn’t ban the use of the slur, it does present the option of dropping it, which could create pressure within CBS to stop using it, which in turn would set a precedent for other networks, as well as the team itself.
According to McManus: “Generally speaking, we do not tell our announcers what to say or not say. Up to this point, it has not been a big issue for us. Last year, it was simmering; now it’s reaching a hotter level. But we probably will not end up dictating to our announcers whether they say [the slur] or don’t say [the slur]. We leave that up to them and our production team. There are times when something becomes important enough that we talk to them, and between now and the start of football season we’ll decide what is the right thing to do.”
The team has been experiencing growing pressure to change its name from Native American activists displeased both about the name and the team’s mascot, as they’re offensive to the Native American community. Team owner Dan Snyder has found himself under fire from multiple sides as people lean on the team to change its name, and some have appealed directly to the NFL itself, suggesting that it compel Snyder to change the team name. The controversy has involved not just Native Americans but legislators, some football fans, the granddaughter of the team’s founder, and groups concerned about race and the history of racism in the United States, highlighting the broad scope of the issue.
Recently, the team was stripped of trademark protections, which struck a significant financial blow. It was a striking political move against the team as well, applying pressure to force it to reconsider its previous hardline stance on refusing to change it — the patent ruled that the slur was “disparaging to Native Americans” and thus couldn’t be covered by patent protections. In the wake of such a clear public comment, the team may be compelled to change its name.
Currently, the controversy may be at a simmer, but football season is rapidly approaching, and when it arrives, the issue is likely to leap into prominence again. As activists push for a change, CBS announcers finally have a nod from the bosses that they can choose to avoid using the slur in discussions of the team. If all the network’s commentators and announcers choose to do so, it sends a powerful message to the rest of the media, the team, and the Native American community: Time to change the name.
Photo credit: Keith Allison.