The Sports Team Nickname Controversy: A Study in Community and Race
The problem of assaultive, racially hateful speech -- for example,
crossburning and verbal terrorizing of people of color -- has been the
focus of much scholarly debate in recent years. Less thoughtful
however, has been paid to a related, perhaps less dramatic, issue: sports
teams' use of Indian names, a use some people find offensive.
In communities across the country, team names such as "Braves,"
"Redskins," "Indians" and "Fighting Illini" have met with organized
opposition from Native American groups and others who say such nicknames
amount to "racial imaging of indigenous peoples" and promote
and negative stereotyping. The protesters also claim that the use of
Indian names fosters a climate in which racial harassment can occur and
that the names represent an appropriation of Native culture and
spirituality. They have demanded that the nicknames be abandoned and
replaced with names that are not race-based. Some of these efforts have
been successful. For instance, Marquette University in Milwaukee has
dropped its "Warriors" nickname, and Stanford University long ago did
with the Stanford Indians. Some schools, such as the University of
Minnesota and the University of Wisconsin, have elected not to play with or
host teams with nicknames deemed derogatory, at least non-conference
teams. And three major daily newspapers -- the (Portland) Oregonian,
(Minneapolis) Star Tribune and the Salt Lake City Tribune -- have
The Sports Team Nickname Controversy
abandon "Redskins" and other controversial Indian team nicknames in their
In many cases, however, teams and their supporters have resisted changing,
and many have not in fact changed. Thus conflict has arisen over the
issue. But while the controversy has raged at an emotional level,
especially in the college and general-interest press, it seems to have
inspired little scholarly attention. Perhaps the issue seems too
to warrant investigation and analysis.
This essay contends the nickname controversy is far from trivial. Rather,
the conflict represents an important social struggle that is bound up with
the idea of words as political weapons and language as a battleground on
which crucial symbolic wars are fought. As such, it can be seen in
a struggle by an under-represented group for self-definition and material
power as well as for an effective voice in public discourse.
In an effort to provide some thoughtful reflection and empirical evidence
on the nickname controversy, this essay has asked several questions
the nature of the conflict in general and the media's role in
What and whose interests seem to be at stake in the controversy? What
meanings have interested parties attached to the issue? What seems to
the role of newspapers in communities dealing with the nickname issue?
do media professionals see their organization's role The Sports Team
vis-a-vis social change and race relations in their communities?
The research focuses on the debate over the "Redskins" nickname of Central
High School in Grand Forks, North Dakota, and the University of North
Dakota "Fighting Sioux" nickname. The focus seems particularly apt
of the large Native American population in the area and the historic
significance of Indian-white struggles in the Great Plains region. The
research also explores the decisions by the Oregonian and Star Tribune
restrict the use of sports-related Native American nicknames in their
. The research uses newspaper accounts to reconstruct the histories
Redskin and Sioux controversies and uses interviews with editors and
writers to gain insight into the editorial decision-making that went into
coverage of and commentary on the issue.
As the researchers read accounts of the conflicts and talked with editors,
it became clear that the controversy was an example of what British
sociologist and media critic Stuart Hall has called the "politics of
representation." A brief exposition of the concept might be useful
The Politics of Representation
Representation, Hall notes, is the interpretive and active process of
cultural production in society, a process by which we attach meaning to
events and identities in the world. The The Sports Team Nickname
process of representation and the creation of cultural meaning, which take
place above all in the mass media, are central activities in social
Hall suggests that these may be the central activities, situated at
heart of politics, economics and other structures typically thought to
centers of power.
In Hall's view, the process is so closely linked to power that it can be
seen as a politics; hence, the politics of representation. "There is
struggle over meaning, and that struggle counts historically, it
historically," Hall argues.
[A]ll meaning is a struggle for meaning, all meaning is the establishment
of one meaning against another [and] we are always battling, as
it were, to
carve out and hold for a period of time what [some aspect of the world]
should mean to us. And each time we do that, we are struggling
aside and push to the margins of the frame, other competing
He observes that an important contemporary manifestation of the politics
of representation is the struggle of previously marginalized groups,
identities, voices, ethnicities and so on for access to the field of
representation. He suggests that these new entities understand well the
central role of culture in society. They recognize that access to
and political power, without access to cultural power and representation,
is almost meaningless. Otherwise, "[t]he capacities of
would still be tied up in somebody else's institutions," he argues.
course, the downside of all of this, and one
The Sports Team Nickname Controversy
Hall mentions but does not stress, is that the politics of representation
can easily become the politics of misrepresentation or the politics of
assimilation by the dominant culture. Nevertheless, these are risks
social movements and groups must take when they seek access to the
The team nickname controversy would appear to be in part a struggle over
the cultural meaning and identity bound up in a name. The struggle
be seen as an effort to control the images, activities and traditions
suggested by the name, both for those who challenge the use of the
nicknames and those who resist changing or abandoning them.
To put it more pointedly: The team nickname controversy is a power
struggle, one in which the less-powerful parties (Native Americans and
their supporters) are seeking to recover access to the means of cultural
decision making, and the dominant parties (for example, certain team
owners, university administrators, conservative alumni and media managers)
are seeking to retain that decision-making authority. The nature of
power struggle becomes clearer when we consider the linguistic
of Native names such as Illini and Braves -- Badgers, Wolves, Bison,
Cardinals, Bears, Hurricane and other representatives of the natural
In symbolic terms, Native people are grouped with animals and natural
forces, a grouping that, given the Judeo-Christian world's attitudes
nature, suggests a belief that
The Sports Team Nickname Controvery
Native people, too, should be subject to Western use and control.
An examination of the public conflict in Grand Forks over two major team
nicknames helps show how the controversy can serve as an example of
politics of representation.
The Central High School Redskins and the UND Fighting Sioux In early
1990, pressure by a Grand Forks anti-racism citizens group concerned
discrimination in some public schools focused official attention on
problem. Team nicknames such as Redskins and Fighting Sioux were
identified as problem areas. A school district advisory committee on
cultural diversity concluded that Central High School's nickname,
was derogatory and should be changed. Soon thereafter about 100 people
attended a school board public forum to discuss the issue, submitting
petitions for and against a name change. About 25 students and some
parents rallied a week later before classes to keep the Redskins name.
In June 1991, the school board voted 6-2 to drop the Redskins nickname and
logo as well as the Warriors nickname and logo used at two local
elementary schools and a junior high school. A committee made up of
students and adults was formed to select a new Central High team nickname.
In October 1991 a group The Sports Team Nickname Controversy
of Central parents, students and alumni (many of them prominent local
citizens) organized a petition drive to restore the name or put the issue
to a district-wide vote, citing the importance and meaning of the
traditional name. "Redskins Forever" signs
appeared in windows and on lawns all over town, and nickname supporters
sported "Redskins Forever" sweatshirts. Dozens of letters, pro and
poured into the Grand Forks Herald, but the Herald (as well as the
Student, the University of North Dakota student newspaper) editorially
supported the school board's decision.
Some members of the Grand Forks community were not pleased with the
Herald's support of a name change. In an interview, Herald Editor Mike
Jacobs said that he was visited by one prominent local citizen (whom he
declined to name), who, in protest of the paper's stance, declared "God
damn it, we won!" The suggestion, Jacobs said, was that Indians
ago lost all claim to sovereignty to the white man, and changing the
Redskins nickname was not a decision Native people should make.
The petition drive gathered nearly 4,000 signatures, but in December 1991
the board voted 7-2 against rescinding its decision to change the
early 1992 Grand Forks Central students voted to replace the Redskins name
with the name Maroon and Grey. (More recently, it was changed again, to
The Sports Team Nickname Controversy
Then, in November 1992, a group of Native American students at the
University of North Dakota began a petition drive demanding that the
university drop its Fighting Sioux team name. A few weeks before, several
fraternity members had harassed
Native American dancers, including children, on a Homecoming parade float
by yelling racial insults and doing the "tomahawk chop." The
petition-drive leaders argued that the Sioux nickname encouraged such
behavior and insulted Native people. The debate continued for several
months, through university-sponsored cultural diversity forums and in
pages of the student paper. The paper's editor, Robert Huschka, wrote
vigorous editorials supporting a name change, but the Grand Forks Herald
took a more moderate stance. In a March 7, 1993, opinion-page column,
Herald Editor Jacobs wrote that while he personally favored dropping the
Fighting Sioux nickname, the decision was not his to make but, rather,
of the "whole community" and ultimately UND President Kendall Baker. In
an earlier editorial, on April 3, 1991, Jacobs had written that "there
both pejorative and descriptive names. `Redskins'. . .seems to fit
the first category. `Sioux'. . .seems to fit in the second category."
UND President Baker, too, seemed to perceive ambiguity in the situation.
After visiting tribal leaders at regional reservations in 1993, Baker
decided not to order a name change. In a speech and statement issued to
the whole university, he said The Sports Team Nickname Controversy
he had concluded that the Native community itself was divided on the issue
(as were UND alumni, some of whom threatened to withdraw support if
name were changed). Baker said his decision was not based on a
losing financial support nor
was he bowing to majority sentiment. Rather, he said, he wanted to reach a
decision that would not damage what he called one of UND's greatest
assets, "namely its strong sense of community and family." He said
and traditions helped hold the UND extended family together. "This is
what makes us strong," he said. Baker said his decision was also
influenced by his own "strong and deeply rooted commitments to diversity,
opportunity and, especially, education." He promised he would use the
nickname controversy as a springboard for educating athletes, incoming
students and others about Native culture and outlined a variety of
to that end.
Despite Baker's decision, the controversy crops up from time to time at
UND, although it has not yet become a university-wide issue again.
students and faculty members in particular are disappointed that the
cultural diversity programs Baker promised have not been visible. Mike
Saunders, a leader in the movement to change both the Central High
and Fighting Sioux nicknames and now an Indian Studies instructor at UND,
says the plan to educate athletes about Lakota culture has not been
out. As for cultural sensitivity training for new The Sports Team
students, Saunders says, "Maybe it's been done, but I haven't heard about
The Role of Newspapers in the Controversy:
The Views of Media Professionals
This essay takes it as almost axiomatic that the mass media serve as a
forum, although an imperfect one, for public discourse on issues of
importance. They also provide, sometimes unintentionally, an arena
under-represented groups to engage in the politics of representation
struggle for some measure of control over the creation of the meanings
most vital to their own welfare. Moreover, whether the media shape,
reinforce or reflect public opinion, public discourse and public policy,
they have historically been and continue to be one of the most
institutions in American society. Thus, it makes sense to examine
media's role in the nickname controversy.
An abundant literature exists in support of claims that mainstream media
content in the United States tends to represent the views of the rich
powerful, reinforce racial and gender stereotyping, and marginalize
distort the messages of social movements. These claims, while they
be more or less valid, are not the direct concern of this research.
focus has been on the editorial process behind media decisions on how
deal with the team nickname controversy -- both to gain The Sports
insight into the ways media people develop their stances vis-a-vis news
coverage and commentary on social issues, and to better understand the
nickname issue itself.
Editors from the Grand Forks Herald and the Dakota Student were
interviewed about the controversies in Grand Forks, and
editors from the Star Tribune and the Oregonian were interviewed about
their decisions to stop using certain team nicknames in their pages.
editor was asked several questions, including: How do you see the
the newspaper in the community in general and in a social controversy
particular? Does the newspaper lead public opinion, reflect it or do
something else? What and whose interests appear to be at stake in the
nickname controversy? What meanings have people attached to the issue?
How do you understand the issue? The Star Tribune and Oregonian
were also asked about the impetus for changing their policies on using
certain team names and the source and authority for the decision.
1. Mike Jacobs, editor, Grand Forks Herald
Jacobs said the newspaper's role is to stimulate public opinion on social
issues although not always to recommend what should be done. "The
newspaper presents issues and ways of dealing with them to reach
conclusions to the betterment of the community," he said. But, he added,
newspapers are "creatures of The Sports Team Nickname Controversy
context," which means they should not "insult public opinion."
Jacobs said that the Herald's editorial positions are not intended to
reflect prevailing opinion in the community ("we don't always agree")
rather, to "stimulate discussion across a broad range of issues." He
noted that, while the Herald
is owned by the Knight-Ridder newspaper chain, those in charge of the paper
have autonomy to determine editorial policy.
Jacobs resisted the suggestion that his views on the nickname controversy
were important because of his status as editor. He insisted he is not
community leader, adding that with rare exceptions, "I am not
briefed [by city leaders], nor do people ask me to do things."
Nevertheless, he was willing to share his personal views as well as those
of the newspaper.
The community conflict over the Central High Redskins name in particular
was a "deeply divisive issue" in Grand Forks, Jacobs said. "It called
question the majority community's understanding of the relationship
between the races, not even in a community context but in a historic
context," he said. People were upset at what seemed to be an effort by
some to rewrite history. While there was a certain emotional
the Redskins name, Jacobs said, a more fundamental issue was at stake: the
role of Indians in the community.
"This is an especially resonant issue on the Great Plains, The Sports Team
given the historical understanding of the past and what occurred here,"
Jacobs said, referring largely to the so-called Indian wars. For many
like Jacobs, grew up in the Great Plains region, that understanding is not
factual but mythical, he said. It has to do with a reified image of the
Sioux people as emblems
of honor and power, he suggested. In reality, however, Indians in the
Great Plains have been deprived of voice, Jacobs said. "When they've
heard from, it is at pow wows, on highway signs, in athletic contests,
never in a completely cultural way," he said. What Jacobs seems
here is that the use of Indian names for sports teams is part of the
picture of the white world's exercise of cultural sovereignty over
Indians. In the athletic arena, Indians are mythologized as Sioux, Warrior
s, Braves and, more murkily, as Redskins. The breadth of Native
from the Native perspective or anyone else's, is obscured, even
As mentioned earlier, the Herald editorially supported changing the
Redskins name. Herald management allowed staff members to write editorial
columns on the issue and asked staffers who were nickname supporters
wear "Redskins Forever" sweatshirts to work, as some had been doing.
"They were asked not to wear the sweatshirts because we thought it was
inappropriate to wear that kind of apparel to work when the [nickname
controversy] was such a big issue and there were Native The Sports Team
Americans on staff," Jacobs explained.
By Jacobs' own admission, however, the editorial stance on the Fighting
Sioux nickname controversy was weaker. "The Sioux controversy was a
more complex issue," Jacobs said. He noted the ambiguity of the Sioux
name itself, that it is accepted
by some but not all Native Americans as a legitimate name, and said the
nature of the debate over the nickname indicated that many others
the issue to be complex. Jacobs said he does think the term
Sioux" is redundant. The Sioux represent "a proudly independent people
had an extraodinarily insightful religious relationship with creation,"
Jacobs said. "They were people you didn't want to mess with."
He said he personally favored dropping the Sioux nickname (his suggested
replacement was "Eagles"), but the other two members of the Herald's
editorial board (the publisher and the editorial page editor) disagreed,
and, in this case as in others, the majority view prevailed. "My own
prediction is that the Sioux name won't survive" in the long run, he
Jacobs said he has thought about the Star Tribune and Portland Oregonian
policy of stopping the use certain team names in their papers but has
taken any action. "It's not clear which names would be involved," he
"It's also not clear that it's the newspaper's responsibility or right to
say you can't call yourself whatever you please." He said that were such
The Sports Team Nickname Controversy
a decision to be made, he himself would be the one to make it.
2. Robert Huschka, former editor, the Dakota Student
Huschka, now a copy editor at the Minot (North Dakota) Daily News, was
editor of the Dakota Student from 1992 to 1994, the
period in which the Sioux nickname controversy reached its peak. His
editorials argued for dropping "Fighting Sioux" for a less controversial
name. Huschka said he saw the issue as one of cultural relations on
and of respect. Acknowledging that the term "respect" could be used many
ways, he suggested that the issue really had to do with respect for a
minority opinion, that of Native Americans. "I don't think [the
of a name change] could comprehend how the nickname could be
to Native Americans," Huschka said.
He said that the Sioux nickname is not one that is "obviously racist,"
such as Redskins, but that it is clearly one that is linked to Native
Americans and, even more, to a specific people and its issues. While the
validity of the Sioux name is a debate going on within the Lakota
Huschka said, "that's their issue and not one we should base our
At the time of the controversy on the UND campus, Huschka said, he was
well aware that his editorials were at odds with the views of about 90
percent of the student body. "But this was not an issue that could be
solved by the majority," he explained. The Sports Team Nickname
"It's an issue of minority rights."
Huschka's point is an important one that is often overlooked in the debate
over team nicknames. Majority rule seldom leads to change, at least
thoughtful change that involves the interests of a marginalized minority
group such as Native Americans. To argue
that a community or a student body should decide whether to change a
nickname some find offensive is to say in effect that the name should not
be changed. Viewed this way, the question echoes a classic conflict
democratic societies: Should a minority's fundamental rights, however
are understood, trump the will of the majority? Although the rights-based
tradition of American law and policy has often provided an affirmative
answer to this question, this dimension of the team nickname issue
be consistently overlooked in popular debate.
Huschka said the Sioux nickname issue needs to be resolved before the
various cultural groups on campus can come together. "When the basic
symbol of the university is one that some people consider derogatory, how
do you expect people to get past that?" he asked. He said that if it
been his decision alone, the Dakota Student would have tried
the use of the Sioux nickname in the paper. Unlike many commercial
however, the Dakota Student functions more democratically, and Huschka sai
d many on his staff were not convinced that dropping the name from
stories was something the paper should do.
The Sports Team Nickname Controversy
Huschka noted other differences between the student and commercial press.
The commercial paper's primary job is to inform, but the student paper's
"first and best role is to take on the administration on certain
act as an advocate and the voice of students," Huschka said. Temporarily
into his student-editor role, he criticized UND President Baker's decision
to retain the name as essentially a sellout. "Baker had to know what
right decision was," Huschka said. "He's sensitive and incredibly
intelligent. But he was just entering his second year when he made his
decision, and he didn't want to pay the political price or the
price." Huschka argued that Baker could have "ridden out the storm"
stirred up by a decision to change the name but chose not to.
"Unfortunately," he said, "the people Baker sees as his constituents
the alumni and the Board of Higher Education, not the students."
3. Julie Engebrecht, executive sports editor, Star Tribune
In January of 1994, the Star Tribune in Minneapolis announced that it
would no longer use certain team names in its news columns. "We
be leaders in the community on this issue," Engebrecht said. "The
Tribune is big on building communities now, and we need to be in a
leadership role to make this happen." The process leading to the decision
to drop the names, however, was long and complex.
The Sports Team Nickname Controversy
After the Oregonian changed its policy in 1992, people at the Star Tribune
talked about doing something similar, but upper management declared that
the paper should be in the business of reporting the news, not making
Engebrecht said. She said she and the assistant sports editor, Howard
Sinker, wanted a policy
change but were rebuffed by the paper's editor and publisher. (Sinker's
personal convictions were so strong that when he covered the 1991 World
Series between Atlanta and Minnesota, his front-page stories omitted
reference to "Braves," Engebrecht said, adding that no one even
Then, in May of 1993, Deputy Managing Editor Steve Ronald had some
thoughtful discussions with Native people at a Native American Journalists
Association meeting and mentioned it to Engebrecht and Star Tribune
Tim McGuire. More talks ensued, and the publisher finally agreed to
working with the sports staff to establish a new policy, Engebrecht
The decision was not made collectively, she added. "If it had been
a democratic basis, it would never have happened."
The names on the "don't use" list include Redskins, Indians, Braves,
Chiefs and Redmen, but Engebrecht said she is considering adding
Sioux" to the list.
At first, there was considerable resistance in the sports department to
the new policy, she said. Some argued that omitting the names meant
paper would be creating reality The Sports Team Nickname Controversy
rather than reflecting it. Engebrecht pointed out, however, that the
changes were no different from other style changes people now take for
granted, "such as the way we refer to women." Other critics saw the
as part of the "political correctness" movement, but, Engebrecht
people invoke the "PC" label
mainly when they want to curtail debate on an issue. Some believed the
changes would be difficult to implement. "It's not hard at all,"
Engebrecht said. She said reporters and copy editors have been diligent in
making sure the policy is implemented.
Finally, Engebrecht noted, some men in particular seemed to feel something
like, "You're messing with my sports," or even worse, "a woman is messing
with my sports." Engebrecht said that she became a symbol of the
outsider coming into a male realm to interfere with sports reporting.
was hard going through it, but not hard believing in it," she said.
said she has long been involved in the Native American community and
the new policy was the right ethical stance for the paper.
Engebrecht said the newspaper had not intended to announce the policy
publicly, at least not until it had been in place for a few months, but
forced to do so. One unhappy reporter leaked the information to the other
Twin Cities news media, so the paper had to respond with an announcement.
Engebrecht said she thinks the reporter believed other media would protest
the The Sports Team Nickname Controversy
policy and force the paper to back down, but they generally voiced respect
for the Star Tribune's decision. "We hadn't wanted to call attention
it," Engebrecht said. "We just wanted to do it because it was the
thing to do."
The new policy remains controversial, however, even outside the newspaper.
"Any time I walk into a room, it comes up," Engebrecht said. "I hadn't
realized the issue aroused such passion." She said she has received
letters from all over the country, with more expressions of support than
criticism. The Star Tribune has lost a few subscriptions as a result
the policy, Engebrecht said, but the number is insignificant. As for
own circle of friends, the ones who disagree "object quietly," she
Engebrecht said she has perceived a "gradual awakening of consciousness"
on the sports staff and finds that most reporters and editors are
the changes in stride. To illustrate this, she noted that one of her
editors who had been most opposed to the change recently declared at a
Native American panel discussion that it was "just another style change
not that hard to do." The editor's articulation of support in a public
forum was "a big moment" for her, Engebrecht said.
4. John Killen, Dennis Peck and Wilda Wahpepah, the Oregonian
Peck, sports editor at the Oregonian, said the staff began The Sports Team
to discuss the issue of nicknames at around the time of the 1991 World
Series, "when TV viewers were treated to Jane Fonda doing the `tomahawk
chop.'" Peck said several assistant city editors had just returned
sensitivity training workshop and had questioned whether the paper
show photographs of people doing the chop or refer to it in stories.
about the nicknames quickly followed, he said.
City Editor Killen added that he had had several conversations about
derogatory nicknames with staff writer Wahpepah, a Native American, and
also attended the Multicultural Management Program at the University of
Missouri School of Journalism. All this led to reflection, he said,
one day, it occurred to me to suggest that we stop using the nickname
`Redskins.'" Initially, "Redskins," which Killen calls "a clear-cut
epithet," was the only name under discussion. The decision on a policy, h
owever, was then-editor William A. Hilliard's to make, Killen said.
(Hilliard became the first African-American president of the American
Society of Newspaper Editors in 1993).
By all accounts, the debate over the nickname issue, both inside and
outside the paper, was lively and often heated. While many were
opposed to a policy on nicknames, Killen said, several changed their
after discussing the issue. "That said, we probably should have had
more [discussion]," The Sports Team Nickname Controversy
he said. "When Hilliard's decision was made, lots of people said they'd
heard nothing of the discussion."
Peck said that about a month after the discussions ended, Hilliard drafted
a letter to readers announcing the new policy and included "Indians,"
"Braves" and "Redmen" among the names the paper would no longer use.
"The newsroom was pretty evenly split," Peck said. "Certainly, the sports
department was almost unilaterally opposed, saying nothing offensive was
meant by the nicknames (focusing primarily on Braves and Indians)."
editors were not as strong in their opposition, however, and "people
color in the newsroom were united in their praise of the policy," he
(but Wahpepah noted she knew of one minority editor opposed to the
Killen said that while many people have come to accept the new system,
"there are people sitting in the newsroom
today . . . who don't like the policy." Opponents argued that the policy
was a form of censorship; that the paper should not be telling
organizations what to name their teams; that the paper was being too
politically correct ("no one means it as a racial epithet," as Killen
described the argument, "so it shouldn't be perceived as such"), and that
some Native Americans are not offended by the names and even use them
Killen described the supporters' arguments this way: It is The Sports
Team Nickname Controversy
not censorship to refuse, as a courtesy, to use a word a cultural and
ethnic minority finds offensive; in refusing to use the names, the paper
making a legitimate editorial decision; majority groups should not presume
to understand or decide what offends and does not offend a minority group,
and the fact that members of a minority group may use certain names as
not give others the right to use the names.
The Oregonian did not invite readers' opinions on the matter before
issuing the policy, Killen said, but it did seek advice from Native
Most if not all of the pressure for change came from within, he said.
After the announcement, the paper received several telephone calls, many
from readers opposed to the policy. "There was a significant backlash
first," Peck said. "We must have received close to 1,000 complaints
readers, decrying our political correctness and our perceived
However, after several weeks, the calls and letters ceased, and those
favor of the change began to respond."
Wahpepah said she handled several calls on the Saturday after the
announcement, "and a surprising number of callers claimed Indian ancestry,
mostly on their grandmother's side, and mostly Cherokee. The usual
was, well my great-grandmother was Cherokee and I'm not offended by
Nevertheless, the decision eventually won praise from The Sports Team
others. The paper won an award in 1992 for its stance from the Oregon
Indian Education Association, and the following year Hilliard received
award from the Native American Journalists Association.
Killen, Wahpepah and Peck agree that the Oregonian has taken a justified
leadership role in the issue of team nicknames.
"Newspapers have always believed they have a responsibility to reflect the
community, but that has usually meant the predominantly white and
class community," Wahpepah said. "Editors will come up against these
of issues more and more, if they follow through on their stated
to become more diverse both in the newsroom and throughout the pages
Killen added that he believed the Oregonian was issuing a wake-up call to
other media with its decision. "Essentially, I felt that a situation
developed where the media had become blind to what they were doing and
someone had to do something to wake people up and think about it," he
"We were all trapped in the old way of thinking and weren't considering
that maybe we were doing something wrong."
While all sides of the nickname controversy have become keenly aware of
the media's ability to provide a forum for public The Sports Team
discourse on issues of social importance, Native American activists seem to
have a particular edge here. As Hall suggests, it is the formerly
marginalized groups who are engaging most energetically and effectively in
the politics of representation. There also appear to be hints of a
sensitivity, at least among some journalists, to the concerns and
complaints of Native peoples. This sensitivity is reflected in part by
the heavy newscoverage of issues such as the nickname controversy,
that permits activists to keep their demands in the public eye. It may be
revealed even more in the policies on team nicknames announced by
newspapers such as the Star Tribune and the Oregonian. The nickname
controversy itself may be seen as a first step toward a more effective
voice for Native Americans over a wide range of issues.
 For a representative collection of viewpoints, see Mari J. Matsuda,
Lawrence III, Richard Delgado and Kimberle Willi
ams Crenshaw, Words That Wound:
Critical Race Theory, Assault
ive Speech and the First Amendment (Boulder,
 See the 1994 Resolution of the National Coalition on Ra
cism in Sports and the Media
(Minneapolis) passed July 26,
1994, at the Unity 94 conference in Atlanta.
 See Barbara Kessler, "Sp
orts Teams Throughout the Nation Wrestle With the Mascot
sue," Dallas Morning News (reprinted in the Grand Forks Herald, May 8, 1994
 See Barbara Kessler.
 See Richard Leiby, Washington Post, Nov
. 6, 1994, F1. The Des Moines Register is
dering a similar move. Telephone interview with Julie Engebrecht,
executive sports editor, (Minneapolis) Star Tribune, Nov. 16, 1994.
 This situation may be changing. The August convention of the Associa
tion of Education
in Journalism and Mass Communication featured two sessi
ons largely devoted to the
nickname controversy. See Bever
ly Ann Deepe Keever, "The Communicative Roots of Cultural
ias: A Cross-Disciplinary Analysis," (convention paper available from AEJMC
, 1621 College
St., Columbia, SC 29206) and "Recovering Identity: Native
Americans Respond to Media and
Sports Team Stereotyping" (t
aped convention program available from Visual Aids
ics, 2012 Tomlynn St., Richmond, VA 23230).
 Perhaps it is not too muc
h of a stretch to find some comparisons with the NAACP's
storic campaign for legally sanctioned school desegregation and just repres
the language of the law.
 See "The Politi
cs of Representation," Pub. No. 93031, Silha Center for the Study of
Media Ethics and Law, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis. The
Representation" was a talk presented at the 19
87 Silha Lecture on April 3, 1987, at the
University of Min
 Hall at 3.
 Hall at 16.
 The accounts of the Reds
kins and Sioux controversies are taken largely from articles
in the Grand
Forks Herald and the Dakota Student.
 Interview with Mike Jacobs, S
ept. 20, 1994, at the Grand Forks Herald office.
 UND Memorandum, Off
ice of the President, July 27, 1993. All statements attributed
here to Baker are from this memorandum.
 Quoted in "Reclaiming t
he Issues," Native Directions (a publication of the UND
ians Into Journalism Initiative), Vol. 2, No. 1 (Autumn 1994) at 12.
Many contemporary scholars have emphasized the role of the media as a pote
influence in American life. See, for example, Phillip J
. Tichenor, George A. Donohue and
Clarice N. Olien, Communi
ty Conflict and the Press (Beverly Hills: Sage
1980), especially at 77-89. See also John Fiske, Media
rs (University of Minnesota Press, 1994).
 The research focused on ma
instream rather than alternative media because the former
ould seem to have a potentially greater impact on public policy and have th
e ability to
reach a larger audience whose minds might not
be made up on the team nickname issue.
 For one of many summaries of
media criticism, see J. Herbert Altschull, Agents of
he Media and Public Policy, 2d ed. (White Plains, N.Y.: Longman,
 The following account is based on an interview with Jacob
s Sept. 20, 1994, at the
Grand Forks Herald office.
For instance, Richard Pemberton Jr. writes that "`Sioux' is the recognized
the Indian tribes living in the Dakotas, but, like
so many names Native American tribes
bear, it is ethnocent
ric, inaccurate, and useful only for classification. In traditional
times, the Sioux formed three major groups: the Santees, the Yank
tons, and the Tetons. As
an English convention, we now identify the vari
ous tribes as part of either the Lakota or
Dakota nations." "`I Saw That
It Was Holy': The Black Hills and the Concept of Sacred
nd," 3 Law and Inequality: A Journal of Theory and Practice 287 (1985).
0] The following remarks are based on a telephone interview with Huschka o
n Sept. 21,
 The following account is based on
a telephone interview with Julie Engebrecht on
Nov. 16, 199
 The comments attributed to Dennis Peck are from a Nov. 16, 1994,
The comments of the John Killen and Wilda Wahpepah ar
e from separate faxes received Nov.