The Washington Redskins controversy still simmers. The team’s owners are adamant that the name is not derogatory to Native Americans. A majority of NFL fans argue that the name is benign. Most people with “reddish” skin find it offensive.
Four years ago, the State of Oregon’s Board of Education banned the use of American Indian names and mascots by public-school athletic teams. Names such as Redskins, Savages, Indians, Chiefs or Braves cannot be used. Of course the decision stirred up controversy, but the Board, in its announcement, stated, “the evidence was overwhelming against the stereotyping and reducing people to caricature.” A city councilman in Roseburg, in the southern Willamette Valley, declared the decision “Idiotic.” Several years previously, Roseburg High School, working with local tribes, had replaced its cartoon caricature of a Native American with a feather and kept the name “Indians.”
Portland’s politically-conservative newspaper, the Oregonian, in 1992 implemented a policy that it would no longer publish names of teams that would be “…considered offensive to members of racial, religious or ethnic groups.” Predictably, this resulted in a number of readers cancelling their subscriptions.
The paper’s editor, William Hilliard, issued the directive. Born in Arkansas in 1927, he was eight years old when his family moved to Portland. When Hilliard applied for a paper route with the Oregonian, the paper refused, fearing the reaction from white customers about having their news delivered by an African-American boy. He earned a degree in journalism from Pacific University, having transferred there after a professor at the University of Oregon told him there was no place for a black person in the news business.
After graduation Hilliard founded a newspaper directed to the black community in Portland. He began with the Oregonian as a copy boy in 1952. His career progressed to sports reporter, beat reporter, and then executive editor. He was named editor of the Oregonian in 1987, the first African-American to hold that position. He retired in 1994.
The Seattle Times banned the term “Redskins” from its pages in 2014.
Much has changed in the newspaper business in the last couple decades. The Oregonian publishes daily but provides in-home delivery only four days a week. It has an on-line presence at OregonLive.com focusing on local and regional news.
The paper’s official policy about team mascots and names has not changed. Stories produced by the Oregonian follow this policy; reports from outside news services, such as the Associated Press, are apparently not edited to conform to this rule. I would guess this is because severe reductions in editorial staff make it difficult to revise the stories.
A personal note: Yvonne “Mike” Rothert came to the Oregonian in 1966 in the “Hostess House” department. She became food editor and was a driving force in the transition from “Women’s” news to serious food writing. She later was assistant editor of the Northwest Sunday supplement, when the newspaper still published a Sunday feature magazine. Yvonne Rothert was my mother.