Tuesday, February 18, 1992 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Nickname Policy Upsets Readers -- Portland Paper Drops Use Of Indian Names


PORTLAND - Oregon's largest newspaper says reaction has been mixed to its decision to drop sports names that refer to Indians, earning support from Indian groups and disapproval from readers.

The Oregonian no longer prints the nicknames of teams like the Cleveland Indians, the Atlanta Braves or the Washington Redskins. It is the first U.S. newspaper to adopt such a policy.

"Names are only a small part of it," said Managing Editor Peter Thompson yesterday, following Sunday's announcement of the change.

"American Indians seem to be clearly saying they're a race of people and not a bunch of mascots and their rituals and their religion should not be mocked as part of sports fervor in sports arenas across the nation."

Some Indian groups yesterday applauded The Oregonian's decision but readers who called the newspaper overwhelmingly opposed the move as mixing politics and sport, the newspaper reported.

"I think it's just great," said Yvonne Swan, a spokeswoman for the national office of the American Indian Movement in San Francisco. "We have very few victories. This is a victory."

"It's creating a lot of awareness and education," said Clyde Bellecourt, spokesman for the National Coalition on Racism in Sports and Media in Minneapolis and a founder of the American Indian Movement. "It's not a trivial matter. If it's so trivial, why don't they get rid of the names?"

The Oregonian received more than 100 calls commenting on the change Sunday and yesterday. Most opposed the new policy.

The feelings of Dave Roth of Aloha were typical of many readers.

"I know the buzzword now is `politically correct,' " said Roth. "But I think this is going way too far.

"I think it's real foolish. The next thing that's going to happen is we'll have to come up with generic names."

One of the teams affected by the policy is the Chemawa Indian School, the 100-year-old all-Indian high school in Salem. The school's nickname is the Braves.

"My only thought is if it's the school's name, it seems pretty inconsiderate not to print the name because of what it is," said Brenda Bremner, Chemawa's athletic director. "Their job is to report the news. They shouldn't get involved in the news."

Thompson said concern by Indians and social changes had prompted the decision.

"We do change names," he said. "The Oregonian doesn't write about `niggers' or `negroes' or `colored' or `spics.' Words that are acceptable in one era are unacceptable in another. The language grows and our sensitivity grows."

Copyright (c) 1992 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.


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