Sports announcers will not have to say the name of Washington’s professional football team on the air while commentating on games, ESPN said Saturday.
ESPN made the decision after Keith Olbermann challenged the sports network to institute a policy similar to that which has been adopted by publications like the Washington Post, the San Francisco Chronicle, Slate, and the Washington City Paper, as well as channels like CBS Sports. The controversial name has been slammed by civil rights and athletic organizations alike for its ethnic stereotyping of Native Americans.
"Our consistent company policy will continue: using official names and marks as presented by the teams, leagues and conferences we cover," ESPN said in a statement. "We do, however, recognize the debate over the use of 'Washington Redskins' and have afforded individuals the opportunity to decide how they will use those words when reporting on the team."
Olbermann called on ESPN to change its policy after numerous sports announcers, including CBS’ Phil Simms and Greg Gumbel and NBC’s Tony Dungy, announced that they would not use the NFL team name in the future. ESPN’s Tom Jackson, an NFL analyst, was apparently planning to stop saying it before the network made their own announcement.
"Not to be totally self-referential and like it or not, ESPN is the conduit of sports in this country," Olbermann said. "It is also loath to be the news. On the other hand, the number of words I and all of my colleagues cannot say on the air is justifiably long. And frankly, many of them are way less offensive than is the name of the Washington team."
"It is my opinion, and like my friend Greg Gumbel said I’m just one person with one thought about it, but I think it is time for us here, officially, or just like Gumbel and Simms and Dungy, to stop using the name," Olbermann said.
Other ESPN analysts and commentators have previously denounced the Washington team’s name, including Bill Simmons and Dan Graziano, but this weekend was the first time that the network officially changed its policy in response to widespread criticism. The new direction sees ESPN joining all other major broadcasters in giving their announcers the option of avoiding the name.