‘Redskins Rehash?: A Cross-Media Analysis of Broadcasts and Tweets on a Controversial Native American Name’ Analysis

Washington Redskins


Technology can come in a number of ways, but it’s often up to the discretion of its consumer on how it’s used. For some, it may be implemented simply to make matters more effective and efficient, or in some cases, come up with a solution to a problem.

Specifically speaking, though, it can help make sense of communication, particularly in sports. Television broadcasts, advertisements and social media are among the few technological advances that helped expand our knowledge in how we communicate in sports.

During the “Technology & Identity in Sport Communication” session at the third annual Alabama Program in Sports Communication symposium, four different presentations discussed their research findings on various topics using some sort of technology as their text. But it was the first one, the one about the Washington Redskins name controversy titled “Redskins Rehash?: A Cross-Media Analysis of Broadcasts and Tweets on a Controversial Native American Name,” that stood out to me.

Admittedly, the reason for that is due largely to the fact that I happen to be a Redskins fan. Because of that, the name, regardless of whether I find the name offensive and think it should be changed or not, will always pique my interest.

Nowadays, however, it seems that it’s not just Redskins fans who seem to genuinely care one way or the other.

Though it’s difficult to pinpoint an exact moment when traction against the Redskins’ team nickname intensified in the past two years, it is not hard to see that the name is now viewed as unfavorably as it’s ever been.

The issue itself, and against Native American sports teams names in general, is not new. As pointed out by its researchers Dr. George L. Daniels and Reginald Allison II, several major universities across the nation changed their athletic teams’ Native American-themed nickname as far back as the 1980s to avoid offending others. Opposition to the Redskins name also existed then too, yet nowhere near to the scale that it is presently.

So is the contemporary movement against the team’s name just a rehash of its predecessor, or have things actually changed? They proposed six research questions to find out:

– What evidence exists of media practitioners taking sides or a particular stance in the 2013 coverage of the Redskins mascot issue?

– To what extent do journalists challenge the ideas of spokespeople or sources quoted in the stories about the Redskins mascot?

– To what extent do media texts analyze historical context to the contemporary discussions about Redskins?

– What types of voices are chosen to represent the Native American community in the media texts analyzed?

– In what way do contemporary messages on the Redskins mascot issue revolve around personalities vs. the practices of running in NFL franchise?

– What roles does social media play in the contemporary discussion of the Redskins’ mascot issue?

After laying out the blueprint for their study, Allison and Daniels examined two types of texts – televisional and social media – to find answers to their questions. Most of the broadcast television texts came from panel discussions on ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” program, which has highlighted the Redskins name controversy on several occasions in the past 24 months. Through social media, relevant discussions about the issue came predominantly through Twitter.

“Ideally in a study like this, what you want to understand is what can you add new to what you may have been hearing in the media,” Daniels said. “And as we examined these texts, we were able to identify some things that are different, but some things that are the same.”

As a result, the pair was able to come to a few conclusions through their still ongoing research with the overlying theme being that the controversy has undoubtedly evolved.

One thing Allison and Daniels found is that the discussion around the controversy is no longer so much about whether the name “Redskins” is offensive but rather what the impact that a potential name change has on the organization and the community.

Another is that the agitation is much more advanced now in how it uses media as a tool to jumpstart a more developed campaign. Now, it’s more than just protests with signs outside of a stadium. The name change advocates have gone as far as using commercials to help garner awareness for their cause.

For both of the aforementioned findings, Allison and Daniels said to look no further than the advancement of media. In 2013 and 2014, the years they are looking at for their study, the media has reached a point where the news cycle is more accelerated than ever.

Now when something is said, it will be heard be heard back from instantaneously, which includes through social media. Even when you’re not looking for news, you’re going to hear and read about the news, as well as the commentary surrounding the issue. It is next to impossible to avoid, even for politicians as high up as the President of the United States, which wasn’t the case pre-Internet and social media.

As a journalist, I’ll just say these technological advancements are a good thing, Redskins name controversy or not.

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