Letter to the Editor: Don’t Use the R-Word in Football Coverage

Dear Editorial Board,

As a Native American and proud alumnus of Harvard Law School, I was very disappointed to see your esteemed publication use the dictionary-defined R-word slur last week in your coverage of the Washington NFL team. I am writing today to respectfully request that you join other leading media organizations in refraining from using the offensive epithet in your future reporting.

Throughout history, the R-word has been used to disparage Native Americans. It was the term used by bounty hunters to describe bloody Native scalps, and it was the epithet screamed at Native Americans as they were dragged at gunpoint off their lands. No doubt, the inherent bigotry of this word is why the team was originally given the name by its longtime owner, the avowed segregationist George Preston Marshall.

Further, the use of this slur is not a victimless crime. Social science research has proven that the promotion of the R-word has serious adverse impacts on the self-image and mental health of Native American children and young adults. Studies show that this derogatory slur also makes others who are exposed to it more likely to negatively stereotype both Native peoples and minorities overall.

Bringing an end to the use of this racist epithet is not an issue of free speech or political correctness run amok, but it is an issue of basic equality and mutual respect. Every time the slur is promoted in the media even in a non-critical way, it is a tacit endorsement of the continued use of this slur. In other words, using this word is not just to legitimize it – it is to endorse its use, to ignore its definition and to defend its message.

As such, dozens of leading national publications, including The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, The Kansas City Star, The Denver Post, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, The Sacramento Bee and others, have expressed opposition to the name or restricted use of the R-word term in their coverage. Rather than repeat – and therefore promote – the racial slur in question, they have decided to use more generic descriptions when referring to the team.

I now ask you to do to the same. By making this commitment, you would be standing with a broad and growing coalition of top news outlets, civil rights and religious organizations, all leading national Native American organizations, political leaders from both parties, and many more Americans, who believe slurring people of color is inappropriate and unacceptable. I hope you will join us and place the highly respected Harvard Law Record firmly on the right side of history by ending the use of the R-word.

Thank you for your attention to this matter and I look forward to your response. I would be pleased to discuss this issue in more detail should you so desire.

Ray Halbritter
Nation Representative

Ray Halbritter

Ray Halbritter is the Nation Representative for the Oneida Indian Nation. He is a member of the Harvard Law School Class of 1990.

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