2014 Graduate Films Documentary on Redskins Name
Meg McElroy knew she wanted to go to college in a city. She thought she might end up in Philadelphia, near her hometown of Haddonfield, N.J. When her mother encouraged her to apply to The Catholic University of America, she decided she needed to visit the Washington, D.C., campus before she made her college choice.
She arrived on campus for her visit just in time to experience the “Snowmageddon” blizzard of 2010. She was snowed in on campus, in the former Spellman Hall, for a week. It turned out to be a fun experience for McElroy.
“That sealed the deal. I said, that’s it, I’m staying,” says McElroy.
On campus, the self-described TV addict found a home in the Department of Media Studies.
“I watch way too many movies and too much TV,” she explains. “It’s something I love and I know how to read into things. That’s what media studies is. It’s understanding the meaning behind everything. It’s not just communications. It’s analyzing.”
Within media studies, McElroy decided to follow an academic track in production. During her four years at CUA, she’s learned about production in a number of roles. The summer after her sophomore year, she did camera work for a minor league baseball team, running segments like “Fan Cam” and “Kiss Cam” at the games. At the same time, she was interning for a media buying company in Philadelphia called Harmelin Media. There she learned about advising companies on when and where to buy television advertisements in order to reach target audiences.
During her junior year, she worked as an intern for Discovery Communications. That helped her learn about the creative process for developing commercials for the company’s various television channels. Currently, she is interning at Image Bearer Pictures, where she has worked on film editing and promotion.
At Catholic University, she would wake up at 6 a.m. during football season to film practices for the University’s team. She would travel with the Cardinals to film their games. She also worked in the Media Studies Lab, helping students with film editing and lending out film equipment.
All this experience culminated in her senior seminar production class last fall. When it came time to pick a topic for the documentary she had to film, she was stumped. She considered one about Philly cheesesteaks. Then her brother sent her an article about the owner of the NFL’s Washington Redskins and his refusal to change the team’s controversial name.
“If you paid attention to the news at all in the fall, the Redskins name was all that D.C. was talking about. I was really lucky that it blew up the way it did because it gave me something to film,” she says.
Although she grew up playing sports, McElroy — a Philadelphia Eagles fan — had to do a lot of research on the history of the Redskins and the push for the team to change its name.
When she Googled the names of people who had written about the topic, she came across Washington Post sports columnist Mike Wise. Wise has long been an advocate for a mascot change. She emailed the writer and he agreed to meet with her.
“Mike Wise was amazing. I met with him once and quickly realized how unprepared I was, so I asked him if I could interview him again later and he was more than willing,” says McElroy.
When members of the Oneida Indian Nation held a press conference in D.C. in October, McElroy and Wise were both there. The Oneida Indian Nation was urging the football team to find a new mascot. Wise introduced McElroy to people he knew at the press conference. That connection helped McElroy find Native Americans to interview for her documentary.
McElroy says the scariest part of the process for her was interviewing Washington fans. She went to pregame tailgates at FedEx Field in D.C. to speak to fans about the idea of changing the team’s nickname.
“At first I was really scared of going up and talking to people about this controversial issue. I got yelled at. Someone told me they were going to punch me. But I got more comfortable with it. Some people were really nice and invited me to stay at their tailgate. In the end, it was a fun experience,” she recalls.
When she had all the footage she needed, she had to edit the film, which is a lengthy process. But when she presented the film to her class, she received positive feedback.
“I learned a lot in making this documentary. I learned how to make a movie, which was way more difficult than I thought. And I learned that you need money to do these things well. But I also learned that when people have their idea or view of something, they don’t like people challenging them,” she says.
McElroy’s hard work paid off. She recently received the Facundo Montenegro Award from the Department of Media Studies. The award goes to the graduating senior deemed to be superior in the area of media production.
Now that she has graduated, McElroy hopes to turn her passion into a career with a job in film or TV production.
To view McElroy's documentary, click here.
Degree: B.A. in Media Studies, 2014
Favorite class: Art of the Interview and History of American Television
Favorite movie or TV show: “For movies, Back to the Future II. For TV, The Office (both the British and American versions) and Broad City.”
Favorite sports team: Philadelphia Eagles