Washington Redskins name controversy

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Washington Redskins game at FedExField, Landover, Maryland, October 2006

The Washington Redskins name controversy involves the name and logo of the National Football League (NFL) franchise located in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area. Numerous civil rights, educational, athletic, and academic organizations consider the use of Native American names and/or symbols by non-native sports teams to be a harmful form of ethnic stereotyping that contributes to all of the other problems faced by Native Americans.[1] The Washington team is only one example of the larger controversy but receives the most public attention due to the name itself being defined as derogatory or insulting in modern dictionaries, and the prominence of the team being located in the nation's capital. Those officially censuring and/or demanding the name be changed include 23 Native American tribes and more than 50 organizations that represent various groups of Native Americans, the full list of which can be found below. There is also a growing number of public officials, sports commentators and other journalists advocating a change. In addition to picketing and other forms of protest, the primary action of opponents has been legal action to cancel the trademarks held by the team. On June 18, 2014, the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB) of the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) again voted to cancel the Redskins trademarks, considering them "disparaging to Native Americans".[2][3]

Support for continued use of the name has come from the team's owners and a majority of fans, which include Native Americans. They say that the name honors the achievements and virtues of Native Americans, and that it is not intended in a negative manner. Supporters also refer to the feeling of Native Americans themselves, and they point to a public opinion poll in 2004 in which 90% of those who identified as American Indians answered that they were "not bothered" by the name "Redskins" being used for the Washington football team.[4] Supporters also point to three out of approximately 60 high schools with the name Redskins, 5 percent, are majority Native American and two are located on Reservations.[5] [6] National public opinion polls consistently find that a large majority (80-85 percent range) of the general public support the team's name so economic pressure through legal and other actions is and has been the main leaver used by opponents of the name.


The Washington Redskins were originally known as the Boston Braves. In 1933, co-owner George Preston Marshall changed the name to the Redskins, possibly in recognition of the then–head coach William Henry "Lone Star" Dietz, who claimed to be part Sioux. On July 6, 1933, the Boston Herald reported that "the change was made to avoid confusion with the Braves baseball team and the team that is to be coached by an Indian (Dietz)... with several Indian players."[7] Dietz's ancestry has been questioned by some scholars, as a birth certificate and census records recorded his parents as white. This does not preclude his having had Sioux ancestry as well.[8] In 1933, the Boston Braves moved from Braves Field, which they shared with baseball's Boston Braves, to Fenway Park, already occupied by the Boston Red Sox. John F. Banzhaf III, Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University Law School, cites a newspaper article from 1933 in which Marshall is quoted as saying the name was selected only to save money by not having to change the logo of the Braves, and not to honor Dietz or the Indian players.[9] There was however, no logo on the Braves football uniform of 1932. The Washington Redskins current logo, which was inspired by Native American, Walter Wetzel, former president of the National Congress of American Indians, was introduced in 1972.[10]

Origin and meaning[edit]

Script logo used by the Redskins (1972–present)
Main article: Redskin (slang)

The origin of the word "redskin" is debated. Some scholars say that it was coined by early settlers in reference to the skin tone of Native Americans, while others say it referred to the color of the body paint used by certain tribes. During the late 18th and early 19th centuries, European Americans wanted a term which all could use to refer to all Native Americans in negotiating treaties that involved different tribes. They adopted the color metaphors used at that time for race pointing to continental origins: white men, black men and red men. The first use of red skin was among a small group in the region first settled by the French, who used the term peaux rouges,[11] their translation of the native word the local tribes used for themselves.

Ives Goddard, a Smithsonian Institution senior linguist and curator emeritus, asserts that the term was originally benign in meaning, and reflected positive aspects of early relations between Native Americans and whites. It emerged at a specific period in history (1769–1826) among a small group of men linked by joint activities; this provided its context. Goddard cites historical instances of Native Americans identifying as red men, or RED-SKIN, and redskins. Goddard admits that it is impossible to verify if the native words were accurately translated.[12][13]

"I am a red man. If the Great Spirit had desired me to be a white man he would have made me so in the first place. He put in your heart certain wishes and plans, in my heart he put other and different desires. Each man is good in his sight. It is not necessary for Eagles to be Crows. We are poor... but we are free. No white man controls our footsteps. If we must die...we die defending our rights." – Sitting Bull

Michael Taylor of Colgate University states other uses: "The term "redskin" comes from the Colonial era, when some Native Americans were killed in clashes with newly arrived settlers and others were hunted down for a bounty."[14] A linguistic analysis of 42 books published between 1875 and 1930 shows that negative contexts in the use of "redskin" were significantly more frequent than positive usage. The use of the word Indian to refer to Native Americans in a similarly selected set of books was more balanced, though negative contexts outnumbered positive contexts.[15] As with any term perceived to be discriminatory, different individuals may hold differing opinions of the term's appropriateness.[16] In current dictionaries of American English, the word is classified as "usually offensive",[17] "disparaging",[18][19] "insulting",[20] "taboo"[21] It is generally avoided in public usage with the exception of a name for sports teams.

Columnist Charles Krauthammer suggested the etymology is somewhat irrelevant to the debate, as meanings change over time. He compared "redskin" to "negro": "Fifty years ago the preferred, most respectful term for African Americans was Negro. [...] The preferred term is now black or African American. With a rare few legacy exceptions, Negro carries an unmistakably patronizing and demeaning tone."[22] In the Washington Redskins trademark litigation, the main issue was the meaning of the term during the period when the trademark registrations were issued, 1967-1990. The linguistic expert for the petitioners, Dr. Geoffrey Nunberg, successfully argued that whatever its origins, "redskins" was a slur at that time based upon the passages from books and newspapers and the movie clips in which the word is inevitably associated with contempt, derision, condescension, or sentimental paeans to the noble savage.[23]


Social science research says that sports mascots and images, rather than being mere entertainment, are important symbols with deeper psychological and social effects.[24] Stereotyping may directly affect academic performance and self-esteem of Native American youth, whose people face high rates of suicide, unemployment, and poverty.[25] Euro-Americans exposed to mascots may be more likely to believe not only that such stereotypes are true, but that Native Americans have no identity beyond these stereotypes.[26] Research demonstrates the harm of stereotyping, with studies showing that exposure to any stereotypes increased the likelihood of stereotypical thinking among citizens with regard to other groups.[27][28]

Advocates of changing the team's name say that use of stereotypes of Native Americans must be understood in the context of a history that includes conquest, forced relocation, and organized efforts by federal and state governments to eradicate native cultures, such as the boarding schools of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.[29] "Since the first Europeans made landfall in North America, native peoples have suffered under a weltering array of stereotypes, misconceptions and caricatures. Whether portrayed as noble savages, ignoble savages, teary-eyed environmentalists or, most recently, simply as casino-rich, native peoples find their efforts to be treated with a measure of respect and integrity undermined by images that flatten complex tribal, historical and personal experience into one-dimensional representations that tells us more about the depicters than about the depicted."[30]

In addition to the names and images, Native Americans opposed to mascots point to the oversimplification of their culture by fans "playing Indian" with no understanding of the deeper meaning of feathers, face paint, chants, and dancing. Dr. Richard Lapchick, director emeritus of Northeastern University's Center for the Study of Sport in Society, in an article: "Could you imagine people mocking African Americans in black face at a game? Yet go to a game where there is a team with an Indian name and you will see fans with war paint on their faces. Is this not the equivalent to black face?" [31] The unofficial mascot of the Redskins team is Zema Williams (aka Chief Zee), an African American man who has attended games since 1978 dressed in a red, faux "Indian" costume, complete with feathered war bonnet and tomahawk. Other fans often dress in similar costume for the games.[32] In December 2013 when the Washington NFL team played the Kansas City Chiefs an employee of a Sonic Drive-In in Missouri placed a message outside that used scalping, reservations and whiskey to disparage the "Redskins". It was quickly removed with the owner's apologies.[33]

The Redskins controversy was revived in 2013, starting with a symposium in February on the topic at the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C. When the football season began, a protest campaign sponsored by the Oneida Indian Nation of New York resulted in media attention and picketing of games. A broader range of persons spoke out in favor of change or open discussion, including local government leaders, members of Congress, and President Barack Obama. Statements in support of a name change have been made by Native American organizations, religious leaders in Washington, D.C.;[34] and The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, which includes the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the American Civil Liberties Union as members.[35] The owner[36] and the NFL Commissioner, supporters of keeping the name and logo, say they believe that it refers positively to Native Americans, invoking qualities of strength and courage. Some scholars argue that the use of any stereotype, whether positive or negative, is a hindrance to the advancement of a group. Scott B. Vickers quotes Susan Shown Harjo, writing, "the use of any stereotype in the portrayal of Indians is considered ... to be contributory to their dehumanization and deracination."[37] Representatives of several academic disciplines have studied the issue and have passed resolutions calling for the end of all Native American mascots and images in sports: these include the Society of Indian Psychologists (1999),[38] the American Counseling Association (2001),[39] the American Psychological Association (2005),[40] and the American Sociological Association (2007).[41]


National protests began in 1988, after the team's Super Bowl XXII victory. Numerous Native Americans wrote letters to Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke encouraging him to change the name. Others boycotted Redskins products and protested. Many of these events were led by Suzan Shown Harjo of the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI). Cooke responded in an interview, stating, "There's not a single, solitary jot, tittle, whit chance in the world that the Redskins will adopt a new nickname."[42]

There was a large protest at the 1992 Super Bowl between the Redskins and the Buffalo Bills. The game was held in Minnesota, and many Native Americans from the region came out to protest the name. The American Indian Movement's (AIM) Vernon Bellecourt was one of the main organizers of the protest. Before and during the game, approximately 2,000 Chippewa, Sioux, Winnebago, and Choctaw, and other Native Americans and members of the local population, protested. Their signs read, "We are not Mascots", "Promote Sports not Racism", and "Repeal Redskin Racism".[43]

With the renewed effort to eliminate the name during the 2013 football season, protest picketing at the stadiums has occurred wherever the Redskins have played, particularly in cities with a significant population of Native Americans; such as Dallas,[44] Denver[45] and Minneapolis.[46][47] Coinciding with the latter protest, a number of Minneapolis politicians voiced their positions; Mayor R.T. Rybak and six members of the City Counsel condemning the name.[48] Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton described the name as "antiquated, offensive and racist".[49] Also participating in the Minneapolis protests were Congresswoman Betty McCollum, 1964 Olympic gold medalist Billy Mills, and American Indian Movement co-founder Clyde Bellecourt.[50][51]

At the team's home stadium in Landover, Maryland, a protest was joined by representatives of other ethnic minorities. “This is an American issue,” Hakim Muhammad, of the Coalition of Prince George’s County Leaders and Organizations, said November 25, 2013. “When you have a name that is disparaging to any nation of people, it affects all of us. Period.”[52][53]

Religious organizations[edit]

In 1992, the Central Conference of American Rabbis issued a resolution calling for the end of sports teams names that promote racism, in particular the Atlanta Braves and the Washington Redskins.[54] In 2013 a group of sixty-one religious leaders in Washington, D.C. sent a letter to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and team owner Dan Snyder stating their moral obligation to join the Change the Mascot movement due to the offensive and inappropriate nature of the name which causes pain whether or not that is intended.[34][55]

In a meeting March 1, 2014, the Board of Directors of the Central Atlantic Conference of the United Church of Christ (UCC) unanimously passed a resolution proposing that its members boycott Washington Redskins games and shun products bearing the team’s logo until the team changes its name and mascot. Team spokesman Tony Wyllie offered a response, saying, “We respect those who disagree with our team’s name, but we wish the United Church of Christ would listen to the voice of the overwhelming majority of Americans, including Native Americans, who support our name and understand it honors the heritage and tradition of the Native American community.”[56] At its annual meeting in June 2014, the membership of the UCC also passed a resolution supporting the boycott.[57][58]

Media campaign[edit]

The Oneida Indian Nation of New York sponsored a series of radio ads in each city to coincide with games of the 2013 season, each featuring a targeted message.[59] The campaign also began with a symposium and protest that coincided with the Fall meeting of the NFL in Washington, D.C.[60] The topic then came up in an interview of President Barack Obama, who stated that if he were the owner of the Redskins, he would consider changing the name because it offends many Native Americans.[61] Rep. Dan Maffei, (D-N.Y.), said in a speech on the House floor that he was siding with the Oneida Indian Nation and its push to drop the football team's name.[62] Both House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) have stated that the name should be changed.[63][64]

Linkage to Donald Sterling controversy[edit]

The immediate punitive action taken by the National Basketball Association (NBA) for Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling's private comments regarding black people has prompted some public official to wonder why Redskins owner Dan Snyder has not received equivalent treatment for racism by the NFL.[65] Senate majority leader Harry Reid restated his opposition by saying "it's time for NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to follow NBA counterpart Adam Silver's lead and rid his "league of bigotry and racism" by forcing the Washington Redskins to change their nickname."[66] However Terry McAuliffe, the Democratic Governor of Virginia, where the team has its headquarters and training facility, reiterated the position he took during his campaign that the name of the team is a business decision, adding that the Sterling case is not comparable to the Redskins debate.[67][68]

Team and NFL responses[edit]

In response to the continued controversy, the team owner Dan Snyder sent an open letter to fans that was published in The Washington Post on October 9, 2013. In the letter Snyder states that the most important meaning of the name Redskins is the association that fans have to memories of their personal history with the team. Snyder also states that the name was chosen in 1933 to honor Native Americans in general and the coach and four players at that time who were Native American; and that in 1971 the then coach George Allen consulted with the Red Cloud Indian Fund on the Pine Ridge reservation when designing the logo.[36] However the Red Cloud Athletic Fund sent a letter to the Washington Post stating that "As an organization, Red Cloud Indian School has never—and will never—endorse the use of the name “Redskins.” Like many Native American organizations across the country, members of our staff and extended community find the name offensive."[69]

In direct response to President Obama's comment, the team's lawyer, Lanny Davis, repeated the team position that no offense is intended to Native Americans, and refers to both the 2004 poll and a recent AP poll that show a large majority of people nationally support the continued use of the name.[70]

On October 30, 2013, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell was scheduled to meet with the Oneida Indian Nation and Dan Snyder separately to discuss the Redskins name. Snyder informed Goodell that he does not intend to change the team's name. NFL representatives, rather than the commissioner, then met with the Oneida. According to Oneida spokesman Joel Barkin, the league defended the use of the Redskins name. "We are very disappointed," Barkin said. "This is the beginning of a process. It's clear that they don't see how this is not a unifying term. They don't have a complete appreciation for the breadth of opposition of Native Americans to this mascot and name."[71]

The team continues to cite public opinion polls showing opposition to changing the name. The most recent was part an annual poll of issues regarding the NFL, which included one question indicating 71% of the general public are in favor of keeping the name, with 18% in favor of a change.[72] On their website the team states: “This poll, along with the poll taken among Native Americans by the Annenberg Institute, demonstrates continued, widespread and deep opposition to the Redskins changing our name. The results of this poll are solidly in line with the message we have heard from fans and Native Americans for months – our name represents a tradition, passion and heritage that honors Native Americans. We respect the point of view of the small number of people who seek a name change, but it is important to recognize very few people agree with the case they are making.”[73] The Onieda Indian Nation "believes more Americans would favor changing the team name of the Washington NFL club if they understood the full context of what the Oneidas and others consider a racial slur."[74] Mike Florio points out that since an AP poll taken in April 2013 showed 79% in favor of keeping the name; the 71% result in the new poll is a significant decrease in support in a short time.[75]

At a ceremony in April, 2014 marking a donation to a school in Sterling, VA near the Redskin's training facility, Snyder repeated his position that the team's name "is not an issue" and will not change.[76]

The team's general manager, Bruce Allen addressed a letter dated May 23, 2014 to Senator Reid repeating the position that the name was originated by Native Americans to refer to themselves, that the logo was also designed and approved by Native American leaders, that the vast majority of both Native Americans and the public do not find the name offensive, and the Original Americans Foundation is making contributions to the more important issues facing Native Americans.[77] There was also a post on the team's Twitter account asking fans to send Senator Reid a message in support of the team, which apparently backfired when most of the tweets supported a name change.[78][79]

Governmental and regulatory action[edit]

Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), chairwoman of the Committee on Indian Affairs and Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), a member of the Chickasaw Nation, have written a letter to Commissioner Roger Goodell about the NFL’s stance on the Washington Redskins name.[80][81] The letter makes the following points:

  • The National Congress of American Indians represent over 250 tribes and millions of Native Americans. They aggressively support a name change as they find the name of the Washington NFL team to be offensive.
  • Continuing to defend the name on the basis of public opinion polls and claiming that the name "honors Native Americans" perpetuates a charade and dishonors the NFL.
  • The name has been determined to be a slur by virtually every civil rights organization and the US Patent and Trademark Office.
  • The NFL is on the wrong side of history in continuing to perpetuate and profit from the degradation of tribes and Indian people while enjoying the benefits of being a tax-exempt, non-profit organization.

Cantwell stated that the letter is in response to comments made by Goodell in a recent news conference. A spokesman for the Redskins, Tony Wyllie, responded in an email: “With all the important issues Congress has to deal with, such as a war in Afghanistan to deficits to health care, don’t they have more important issues to worry about than a football team’s name?”[82]

In a letter dated May 9, 2014 to the Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) called for a hearing on the name of the Washington NFL team. He said that, given the public benefits enjoyed by the NFL, the team owner and the NFL commissioner should explain why their actions are in the public interest.[83]

In an interview on May 2, 2014, Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) stated that he would probably change the name because there are Native Americans who are offended.[84]

On May 22, 2014, fifty Democratic U.S. Senators sent a letter[85] to NFL Commissioner Goodell asking the league, referencing the Donald Sterling case, “send the same clear message as the NBA did: that racism and bigotry have no place in professional sports.”[86]

In his weekly conference call with Iowa reporters June 26, 2014, US Senator Tom Harkin said “It has become clear to me over time that the name of the “Washington Redskins" is an affront to Native Americans and it is time to change it.“ [87]

Trademark cases[edit]

In 1992, Suzan Shown Harjo, President of the Morning Star Institute, with six other prominent Native Americans represented by the Dorsey & Whitney law firm of Minneapolis, petitioned the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) to cancel the trademark registrations owned by Pro-Football, Inc. They based their lawsuit on the claim that federal trademark law states that certain trademark registrations are not legal if they are "disparaging, scandalous contemptuous, or disreputable." In 1999 the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB) judges canceled the federal registration of the mark REDSKINS "on the grounds that the subject marks may disparage Native Americans and may bring them into contempt or disrepute." Since 1992, the USPTO has rejected eleven applications for other trademarks that included the word redskins, based on the same reasons. Some of the applications were made by Pro-Football, Inc., including "Washington Redskins Cheerleaders".[88][89] The owners appealed the Harjo decision to the United States District Court for the District of Columbia in Pro-Football, Inc. v. Harjo. In 2005 the court reversed the TTAB's decision on the grounds of insufficient evidence of disparagement. Subsequent appeals have been rejected on the basis of laches, which means that the Native Americans had pursued their rights in an untimely and delayed manner. On March 20, 2013, a bill was introduced in the United States House of Representatives by Eni F.H. Faleomavaega, Delegate from American Samoa, and co-sponsored by 19 others to amend the Trademark Act of 1946 to void any trademark registrations that disparage Native American persons or peoples, such as redskins. Ten members of Congress also sent a letter to the NFL commissioner, all of the team owners including Dan Snyder, and Fred Smith, CEO of FedEx, a primary sponsor of the team; requesting that the name be changed due to the many Native American organizations that oppose the continued use of the name, and in order to fulfill the NFL's own policy regarding diversity.[90]

A second case was filed, Blackhorse v. Pro-Football, Inc.,[91] with younger plaintiffs whose standing might not be hindered by laches.[92] On June 18, 2014, the TTAB again voted to cancel the six trademarks held by the team in a two to one decision that held that the term "redskins" is disparaging to a "substantial composite of Native Americans", and this is demonstrated "by the near complete drop-off in usage of 'redskins' as a reference to Native Americans beginning in the 1960s." [93][94] In a press release the trademark attorney for the team stated that they were confident that they would once again prevail on appeal, and that today's decision will make no difference in the continued use of the Redskins name.[95] Plaintiff Amanda Blackhorse, a social worker and member of the Navajo Nation, said in an interview, "We’ve been through this process for eight years now. We will continue to fight. And, you know, this is not the end for us."[96]

Evidence of disparagement submitted by the petitioners in the case include the frequent references to "scalping" made by sportswriters for sixty years when reporting the Redskins loss of a game,[97] and passages from movies made from the 1940s to the 1960s using "redskin" to refer to Native Americans as a savage enemy.[98] A linguistics expert for the team unsuccessfully argued that the name is merely a descriptive term no different than other uses of color to differentiate people by race.[99]

Reaction to the decision has often characterized it as government interference in a private business, or as an improper limitation on freedom of expression.[100][101] The decision in fact makes no change to the team's use of the name, but withdraws the government from the responsibility to protect the use of the name by anyone.[102]

Federal Communications Commission[edit]

Some members of Congress and former Federal Communications Commission (FCC) officials sent a letter to the current chairman of the FCC asking that the use of "redskin" by broadcast media be regulated in the same manner as other racially charged words. Other racial slurs are generally prohibited entirely based upon FCC rules regarding profanity and obscenity; or the name could have only limited use based upon whether its use is in the public interest.[103][104][105] Signers of the letter include:

In particular, Hundt argued that Snyder should be declared unfit to own radio stations (he owns Red Zebra Broadcasting, owners of Redskins flagship station WTEM) because the FCC "has been reluctant to give broadcast licenses to people who advocate racially intolerant positions".[106]

Local Jurisdictions[edit]

For many years, beginning with the departure of the Baltimore Colts, the Redskins were the only NFL team in a large area from Maryland into the southern states. This is slowly changing as Maryland fans move to the Baltimore Ravens.[107] Virginia fans are now the more numerous and dedicated supporters of the Redskins, and the state and local governments have used economic incentives to encourage the team's relocation of its facilities there.[108] The Board of Supervisors of Loudoun County, Virginia, where the team is headquartered and has its training facility, passed a resolution supporting the team's right to keep the name as a business decision.[109] In response to the TTAB decision that the name of the team is a term disparaging to Native Americans, a number of Virginia delegates have formed a "Redskins Pride Caucus" to defend the name. The most vocal member, State Senator Chap Petersen, calls the opposition to the name "political correctness on steroids in overdrive".[110][111]

In contrast, the Government of the District of Columbia, while also seeking a relocation of the team, passed a DC Council resolution November 5, 2013 stating its position that the name should be changed.[112] In the 1990s Jack Kent Cooke, the owner, wanted to build a new stadium in Washington, D.C. In addition to legal and environmental requirements that delayed the project, former U.S. Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (D-Colo.) introduced legislation to require Cooke to change the name of the team before a stadium deal could be approved.[113] In 2013, discussions of a possible move back to the District of Columbia prompted Mayor Vincent Gray to say that a name change would need to be part of the discussion.[114]

The Executive of Prince George's County, Maryland, where the team's stadium is located, stated that if the name is offensive to any group, a change should be considered.[115] Montgomery County, Maryland Executive Isiah Leggett is considering asking the County Council to pass a similar resolution. He will drop “Redskins” from all of his office’s announcements and news releases. The matter has been referred to the county Human Rights Commission, but quick action is not expected.[116][117] Maryland House Majority Whip Talmadge Branch, (D-Baltimore) and Delegate C.T. Wilson (D-La Plata) introduced a resolution in the Maryland House of Delegates urging the Washington Redskins' owners to change the team's name.[118] While acknowledging that the resolution is not likely to pass, delegate Wilson stated it was the right thing to do at this time. In response to the bill, Rico Newman, member of the Choptico Band of the Piscataway Indian Nation, rejects any claim by the team and its supporters that the name is a "badge of honor". “It’s a term that’s been used since the late 18th century that had a single determination, and it has and always has been negative,” Newman said.[119]

New York State[edit]

In May 2014, a bipartisan group of New York State legislators said they planned to introduce a resolution denouncing the football team's use of the word redskin and urging team owner Daniel Snyder to pick a new name.[120]

United Nations[edit]

Ray Halbritter, an Oneida leader from New York, is taking his case on the Washington Redskins' to the United Nations. Halbritter claims the name is "racially insensitive and should be changed." He will be meeting with Secretary-General for Human Rights at U.N. headquarters in Manhattan, New York. In a news release, Halbritter said,

“I am both humbled and heartened by the opportunity to have a dialogue with the U.N. regarding the important moral, human, and civil rights issues raised by the Washington NFL team’s continued use of the R-word racial slur. It is extremely encouraging to see people across the country, as well as national and international leaders, recognizing the harmful impacts of using this term that denigrates Native peoples.”[121]

While the U.N. does not possess any power to take action, Halbritter is hoping its attention can increase awareness of the issue and heighten pressure on the Washington Redskins and the NFL to take action.[121][122] During the 2013 NFL season, the Oneida Nation of N.Y. sponsored radio advertisements criticizing Washington's nickname.[123]

In April, 2014 a United Nations (UN) expert on the rights of indigenous peoples called on the owners of the Washington Redskins football team to consider that the term “redskins” is the hurtful reminder of the long history of mistreatment of Native American people in the United States, and that the name perpetuates stereotypes that obscures understanding of the reality of Native Americans today and instead helps to keep alive racially discriminatory attitudes.[124]

Efforts to show Native American support for the name[edit]

In May 2013, the Redskins' website reported the opinions of a local fan, Stephen D. Dodson, who claimed to be a chief and "full-blooded American Inuit originally from the Aleutian Tribes of Alaska." He said that not only was "Redskins" not offensive to him and his "whole family", but it was a "term of endearment" that Indians "on the reservation [...] would call each other".[125] On June 5, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell wrote a letter to Congress, which in part pointed to "recent remarks from Chief Steven Dodson, an American Inuit chief" to indicate support for the nickname among Native Americans.[126]

Two weeks later, Dave McKenna of Deadspin reported that the Redskins' "full-blooded American Inuit chief" was "neither a full-blooded American Inuit nor a chief in any formal sense," and "Chief" was only a nickname. The only documentation McKenna found that referred to Dodson as "Chief" was on a list of AKAs from court records related to "theft, paternity, and domestic violence matters." (The same records say Dodson's middle name is "Dallas.") McKenna quotes Kelly Eningowuk, executive director of the Inuit Circumpolar Council-Alaska, who says that neither "Chief" nor "Indian" are terms used by Alaska's native peoples in self-description. She said the pow wows Dodson claims to have attended would be irrelevant to his supposed Inuit ancestry.[127]

While acknowledging the Deadspin report, The Washington Free Beacon named Dodson its 2013 Man of the Year, "For standing up for the free speech rights of the powerful yet pathetic."[128]

On November 25, 2013 as part of the NFL's "Salute to Service" month and Native American Heritage month, the Washington Redskins recognized four members of the Navajo Code Talkers Association briefly during a commercial break. Three of the four were wearing a new Redskins jacket. One of them, Roy Hawthorne, has stated, "My opinion is that's a name that not only the team should keep, but that's a name that's American."[129][130] This action was criticized.[131][132][133] In April, 2014, Navajo Nation Council voted in favor of a statement opposing the name of the Washington team, as well as other disparaging references to American Indians by other professional sports franchises,[134] however, Ben Shelley, Navajo Nation president, has endorsed fundraising for the Washington Redskins Original Americans Foundation, and stated he was disappointed at the National Indian Gaming Association for pulling its name from a fundraising event.[135]

The team has announced that it will share some of the hundreds of supportive letters and emails it has received from self-identified Native Americans, which they are calling "Community Voices".[136]

In the media, a few Native Americans have been reported to support the team:

  • Three Virginia Indian leaders say they are not offended by the name Redskins, but are more concerned about other issues such as the lack of Federal recognition for any Virginia tribe.[137]
  • Robert "Two Eagles" Green, retired chief of the Fredericksburg area Patawomeck Tribe, stated on a radio talk show he’d be offended if the team does change its name.[138]
  • A brother and sister in Oneida, NY state they are both Native American (Mohawk) and ardent Redskins fans.[139]

Other teams that use the name Redskins[edit]

Supporters note that three predominantly Native American high schools use the name Redskins for their sports teams, suggesting that it can be acceptable.[140] However the principal of one of these, Red Mesa High School in Teec Nos Pos, Arizona, said that use of the word outside American Indian communities should be avoided because it could perpetuate “the legacy of negativity that the term has created.”[141]

On its official website, the Washington team posted articles referring to high school teams using the same name (and often the same logo). The athletic director of Coshocton High School in Coshocton, Ohio is quoted as saying, "We are very proud of our athletic teams and very proud to be called Redskins!"[142] The principal of McLoud High School in McLoud, Oklahoma says that not only students, but the local Native American population takes pride in the name.[143] The coach at Lamar High School in Houston, Texas says, “Our school is 75 years old and there’s a lot of pride in it,” he explained. “I think it’s a great mascot, as all of the traits of a Redskins warrior are something to be admired."[144] The Capital News Service in Maryland has verified in 2013 that 62 high schools in 22 states continue to use "Redskins" for their teams. 40 percent have had local efforts to change the name; since 1988, during the last 25 years, 28 high schools in 18 states have dropped use of the name.[145]

In December 2013 the Houston Independent School District (HISD) by unanimous vote passed a preliminary plan to eliminate all ethnically sensitive names and mascots, one of which is the Lamar High School Redskins. The Washington NFL team issued a statement repeating its position that the teams' name is not offensive to many Native Americans, but rather a source of pride.[146] In April 2014 Lamar High School announced the new name for its sports teams was the Texans.[147] "The moral cost to our reputation as a diverse district -- where we care about the sensitivities of every single individual -- would be incalculable if we were not to do this," HISD superintendent Terry Grier said.[148]

Original Americans Foundation[edit]

In a letter[149] dated March 24, 2014, Snyder announced the creation of the Washington Redskins Original Americans Foundation (OAF) to assist Native Americans with problems of poverty, health, and basic services. Snyder and team representatives visited 26 reservations in twenty states. Torrez - Martinez of Desert Cahuilla was quoted in the letter as saying, " There are Native Americans everywhere that 100 percent support the Redskins " [150] Snyder also used his letter to cite instances of support for the team name by other Native Americans during his visits.[151]

There had previously been news reports of meetings by Snyder with tribal leaders in Alabama and New Mexico to discuss charitable donations and economic development; which received mixed responses from Native Americans. Some welcome any assistance with poverty and the other problems poverty creates; while others see it as purely public relations. Robert McGhee, treasurer of the Poarch Band of Creek Indians in Atmore, AL said: "I thought the whole meeting was odd."[152][153]

In response to the foundation, ESPN commentator Keith Olbermann asked why, if "Redskin" is not insulting, Snyder never uses the term to refer to Native Americans?[154] The National Congress of American Indians issued a statement saying it is glad that Snyder is dedicating time and resources to Native American issues. "However, this Foundation will only contribute to the problems in Indian Country if it does not also address the very real issue of how Native people are consistently stereotyped, caricaturized, and denigrated by mascot imagery and the use of the R-word slur,” the statement read. “For Mr. Snyder and the Foundation to truly support and partner with Indian Country, they must first change the name of the D.C. team and prove that the creation of this organization isn’t just a publicity stunt.”[155] Senator Harry Reid called the foundation "a phony deal" and predicted that the name will change within three years.[156] In a letter posted on her website, Congresswoman Betty McCollum (D-Minn.) calls the foundation an "attempt to buy the silence of Native Americans with a foundation that is equal parts public relations scheme and tax deduction."[157] In The New York Times, author David Treuer (Ojibwe) places the creation of the foundation in the context of the long history of Native American being given gifts rather than real change that would make a difference.[158]

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell stated that he takes the creation of the foundation as an indication that Snyder is "doing his due diligence when it comes to listening to the public about the franchise's controversial name, and he continues to stand behind the name due to strong public support."[159]

For recipients of one of the initial donations, the Lame Deer, Montana public schools on the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation, there is a range of opinion regarding the name of the Washington team, but the tribe's Economic development administrator Steve Small, said “We had to weigh need against principle." The publisher of the reservation newspaper called the foundation "...a slick PR move to gain support from poor Native Americans to keep the Redskins mascot. It's cheaper than changing the brand name and commerce associated with the current mascot and logo."[160]

In an editorial in the Washington Post, Brian Cladoosby, the current president of the NCAI wrote: "Snyder, his team and the NFL are welcome to join Indian country as allies and partners but only when they make their most significant contribution up front: Retire the name of this team. Only then will we truly know Snyder’s commitment to Indian country, to Native youth and to a future where tribal nations and our people are treated as equal to all other Americans."[161]

Upon learning that the OAF would be the title sponsor of a celebrity golf tournament in Arizona, two of the other sponsors withdrew their participation in protest. First was the The National Indian Gaming Association, whose chairman, Ernest Stevens, said his organization finds the NFL team's name to be offensive and is skeptical about the motives of the foundation".[162] Next was the Notah Begay III Foundation, its executive director Crystal Echo Hawk stating: "I find it underhanded and despicable that the Washington football team would co-opt this event. As soon as we found out about their involvement we withdrew our support."[163] Later, an additional sponsor, the Navajo Nation Gaming Enterprise, stated that they would have declined sponsorship had they known in advance of the Redsk*ns involvement.[164] After the event, the Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly thanked the sponsors and expressed disappointment at those who had withdrawn support.[165]

Public opinion polls[edit]

Despite vocal and legal action from the Native American groups and scholars who support a name-change, the vast majority of people surveyed on the subject in prior years did not find the name offensive.

There are those that question the appropriateness of submitting minority rights to a majority decision. Louis Gray, president of the Tulsa Indian Coalition Against Racism and an Osage Indian: “You wouldn’t [take a poll] with any other race. You wouldn’t have African-Americans vote to decide whether or not any sort of racial epitaph would be offensive.”[166]

There are basic issues with the reliability of public opinion polls that overshadow their value in many cases. There has been a decline in the willingness of people to participate, now down to about 10%, so there is no way of knowing whether there is any systematic bias in the results. Survey methods influence the results, with those done by traditional mail over-sampling the elderly, and telephone surveys done using only land-lines under-sample the young, who only have cell phones.[167]

Following the 1992 Super Bowl protests, The Washington Post posted a survey in which "89 percent of those surveyed said that the name should stay."

2004 Annenberg survey[edit]

The survey most frequently cited by opponents of change was performed in 2004 by the National Annenberg Election Survey, in which Native Americans from the 48 continental U.S. states were asked "The professional football team in Washington calls itself the Washington Redskins. As a Native American, do you find that name offensive or doesn't it bother you?" In response, ninety percent replied that the name did not bother them, while nine percent said that it was offensive, and one percent would not answer.[4][168] The problem of individuals claiming to be Native American when they are not is well known in academic research, limiting the value of public opinion polls of the mascot issue.[169] It is a particular problem when non-natives claim Indian identity to gain authority in the debate over sports mascots.[170] Steve Russell, an enrolled Cherokee citizen and associate professor of criminal justice at Indiana University, states that both SI and Annenberg's samples of "self-identified Native Americans... includes plenty of people who have nothing to do with Indians".[171]

At a symposium at the Washington College of Law at American University, the topic was discussed, noting the following problems with the National Annenberg Election Survey:

  • Being ten years old, the survey is of little value given the evolution of public opinion on other social issues over the same period.
  • Context matters - The questions regarding the football team were only part of a longer election-year survey.
  • The self-identification problem - Comparing the US Census data for self-identified Native Americans with the numbers of enrolled tribal citizens, 40% of those who claim to be Native American have no support for that claim.
  • Use of landlines - Only 53% of Native Americans had a land-line in 2005, so almost half of the target population was excluded from the sampling process.
  • The question was poorly worded and confusing - The phrasing As a Native American, do you find that name offensive or doesn’t it bother you? has multiple issues. It is a two part question with no single answer.
  • Sample size - Only 768 Native Americans were polled, which is only 0.04 percent of the population, meeting the minimal requirement to be statistically significant, but too few to justify using it as a definitive measure of Native American opinion given the issues cited above.

In addition, it was noted that even taken at face value, the poll indicates that 9 percent of Native Americans are insulted, which implies that it is permissible to insult others if they are in the minority. There is also the question of the need for a survey on this issue.[172]

More recent surveys[edit]

More recent national polls, by the AP in April 2013, showed continued support for retaining the name, although lower (79%) than previously. An AP poll done eight months later however, showed increasing support for the name at 83 percent.[173][174] The opinion of Redskin fans continues to favor keeping the name. Comments made by fans on the web in response to news stories tend to dismiss the controversy as political correctness, and that the name refers to nothing except the context of the football team.[175]

In July 2013 The Washington Post conducted a phone survey of people living in the D.C. metro area. No questions about ethnicity were asked, only whether respondents supported the continued use of the Redskins name and if they were sports fans in general and fans of the team in particular. 66 percent of the respondents supported retention of the name, while 82 percent said that if the name did change, they would continue to support the team. A small majority (56 percent) of those that would keep the name also thought that the word "redskin" was not an appropriate way to describe a Native American Indian.[176]

Similar results came from a poll of residents of the D.C. metro area commissioned by the Oneida Indian Nation of New York and conducted in October 2013 which found that although sports fans want to keep the name, 59% also say Native Americans have a right to feel offended by the term redskins and 44% say that when they learn the term is defined as 'offensive' by the dictionary, they are more likely to support changing the team name. Additionally, most people (66%) say that if Snyder meets with Native American leaders, he should not refer to them as "redskins" because the term is inappropriate.

At the Center for Indigenous Peoples Studies at California State University, San Bernardino a survey was conducted of 400 individuals, with 98 individuals identified as Native Americans, finding that 67% agreed with the statement that "Redskins" is offensive and racist. The response from non-natives was almost the opposite, with 68% responding that the name is not offensive.[177][178] This is a similar result to a telephone poll conducted in the DC Metro Area sponsored by WTOP Radio; in which 61% of 604 adults responding would not change the name of the team, although about half (55%) think the name will change eventually. In the District of Columbia there was a small majority (57%) who would change the name, but in Maryland and Virginia 60% and 67%, respectively, would not. While there were questions to identify race and gender, these made little difference in the results, and no Native Americans were identified. The greatest difference was shown in groups asked to identify themselves as strong or casual fans of the team, shown by the results of 81% versus 56% in favor of keeping the name.[179]

Individual opinions[edit]

Contrasting comments by individuals in the mainstream media (listed by date) include:

Players, owners, and coaches[edit]

  • Larry Dolan, owner of the Cleveland Indians, has criticized the Redskins' team name during a discussion of his own team's controversial Native American logo, Chief Wahoo.[180] According to Dolan, "If we were the Redskins, the day after I owned the team the name would have been changed".[180]
  • Art Monk and Darrell Green, former Redskins and Football Hall of Famers, think a name change should be considered.[181]
  • Mark Murphy CEO of the Green Bay Packers and former Redskins player: [nickname is] "derogatory to a lot of people".[182]
  • Amy Trask, former CEO of the Oakland Raiders: "As a society, we should seek to inspire people to be tolerant and respectful of others, regardless of our differences. Using Redskins as the name of an NFL team does not further this goal."[183]
  • Marv Levy, former NFL coach: "...a crude word, even if not intended to insult."[184]
  • Former Redskins coach Joe Gibbs supports the name, while former Redskins Joe Theismann says he was proud to be a Washington Redskin, and there was never any discussion of the name during his years as a player. Sportscaster James ‘JB’ Brown states that he is sensitive to the issue but it is unclear. Michael Wilbon stated that he was disappointed with Roger Goodell's defense of the name: "It’s a derogatory term".[185]
  • Former Redskins players Joe Jacoby and Doug Williams (currently Director of Player Personnel for the Redskins) both declined to comment on the name, Williams saying "I don’t think as a player we should weigh heavily in."[186]
  • Roman Oben, former NFL player: "Dan Snyder 'Would Make More Money' Changing the Redskins Name"[187]
  • DeAngelo Hall's response to a question during a live interview was initially interpreted as his being in favor of the team name change, but later said that he was caught off-guard. He then said he sees both sides to the argurement but he and his teammates defer to the team's management on the issue.[188]
  • Former Redskins player London Fletcher stated that after learning some of the history of the term, he became "a little bit uneasy" with the name, but a short time later was seen smiling at Redskins fans at the 2014 NFL draft while announcing the teams draft pick, wearing a Redskins t-shirt.[189]
  • Jason Taylor, former Redskins player: "If you look it up in the dictionary, it’s an offensive term. [...] If it offends anyone, the name should be out."[190]
  • Richard Sherman, a player the Seattle Seahawks, spoke out against the Redskins name saying "he wishes the NBA’s Donald Sterling controversy would have been a catalyst to reignite the conversation over Washington’s controversial team name."[191]
  • Mike Holmgren, president of the Cleveland Browns, stated in an interview that the name should absolutely change.[192]
  • Former Redskin Mark Schlereth: "It's a pejorative term. And it needs to change. I mean, you would never go into a conference of Native American people and walk up in front of them and refer to them as redskins." [193]
  • Retired punter Chris Kluwe made many comments in opposition to the name, including that he would never play for the team.[194]
  • The first black player for the Redskins, Bobby Mitchell, expresses ambivalence stating that although retaining a personal attachment, "as a black man, I understand what the Indians are saying. I understand. So, I don’t know how this will work out.” [195]
  • Champ Bailey, a former Redskins player and current member of the New Orleans Saints said that "When you hear a Native American say that ‘Redskins’ is degrading, it’s almost like the N-word for a black person. If they feel that way, then it’s not right. They are part of this country. It’s degrading to a certain race. Does it make sense to have the name?"[196]
  • Former quarterback Sonny Sixkiller (Cherokee): "Redskins name is racist to me."[197]


  • Rev. Graylan Hagler, pastor of the Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ in Washington, DC has spoken against the Redskins name for 20 years, and is glad that President Obama agrees.[198]
  • Ralph Nader: While advocating a name change, states that this should not be a substitute for addressing the deeper problems faced by Native Americans.[199]
  • Thomas G. Smith, professor of history at Nichols College, sees a parallel between the current debate and the resistance to racial integration 50 years ago, when the Redskins became the last NFL team to have a black player.[200]
  • Byron Dorgan, former Senator and chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee: "Most words that once were used to hurt and to reflect intolerance have been now recognized as unacceptable. That should be the case with the name Washington Redskins."[201]
  • Stephen Pevar, Senior Staff Attorney, ACLU: "Our society continues to evolve. Many words that were in common usage decades ago have been relegated to the garbage heap because they are recognized today as demeaning and derogatory. [...] The team has a proud history and dedicated fans. Hopefully the team will soon adopt a name that isn't racially derogatory."[202]

Native Americans and organizations opposed[edit]

In the 1940s the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) created a campaign to eliminate negative stereotyping of Native American people in the media. Over time, the campaign began to focus on Indian names and mascots in sports.[203] The NCAI maintains that teams with mascots such as the Braves and the Redskins perpetuate negative stereotypes of Native American people, and demean their native traditions and rituals.[204] The NCAI issued a new report in 2013 summarizing opposition to Indian mascots and team names generally, and the Washington Redskins in particular.[205]

The following groups have passed resolutions or issued statements regarding their opposition to the name of the Washington NFL team:



  • Advocates for American Indian Children (California)
  • American Indian Mental Health Association (Minnesota)
  • American Indian Movement[220]
  • American Indian Opportunities Industrialization Center of San Bernardino County
  • American Indian Student Services at the Ohio State University
  • American Indian High Education Consortium
  • American Indian College Fund
  • Americans for Indian Opportunity
  • Association on American Indian Affairs
  • Buncombe County Native American Inter-tribal Association (North Carolina)
  • Capitol Area Indian Resources (Sacramento, CA)
  • Concerned American Indian Parents (Minnesota)
  • Council for Indigenous North Americans (University of Southern Maine)
  • Eagle and Condor Indigenous Peoples’ Alliance
  • First Peoples Worldwide
  • Fontana Native American Indian Center, Inc. (California)
  • Governor’s Interstate Indian Council
  • Greater Tulsa Area Indian Affairs Commission
  • Great Lakes Inter-Tribal Council (Wisconsin)
  • HONOR – Honor Our Neighbors Origins and Rights
  • Kansas Association for Native American Education
  • Maryland Commission on Indian Affairs
  • Medicine Wheel Inter-tribal Association (Louisiana)
  • Minnesota Indian Education Association
  • National Congress of American Indians (NCAI)
  • National Indian Child Welfare Association
  • National Indian Education Association
  • National Indian Youth Council
  • National Native American Law Student Association
  • Native American Caucus of the California Democratic Party
  • Native American Finance Officers Association (NAFOA)[221]
  • Native American Journalists Association[222]
  • Native American Indian Center of Central Ohio
  • Native American Journalists Association
  • Native American Rights Fund (NARF)
  • Native Voice Network
  • Nebraska Commission on Indian Affairs
  • Nottawaseppi Huron Band of Potawatomi (Michigan)
  • North Carolina Commission of Indian Affairs
  • North Dakota Indian Education Association
  • Office of Native American Ministry, Diocese of Grand Rapids (Michigan)
  • Ohio Center for Native American Affairs
  • San Bernardino/Riverside Counties Native American Community Council
  • Seminole Nation of Oklahoma
  • Society of Indian Psychologists of the Americas
  • Southern California Indian Center
  • St. Cloud State University – American Indian Center
  • Tennessee Chapter of the National Coalition for the Preservation of Indigenous Cultures
  • Tennessee Commission of Indian Affairs
  • Tennessee Native Veterans Society
  • Tulsa Indian Coalition Against Racism[223]
  • The Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation
  • Unified Coalition for American Indian Concerns, Virginia
  • The United Indian Nations of Oklahoma
  • Virginia American Indian Cultural Resource Center
  • Wisconsin Indian Education Association
  • WIEA “Indian” Mascot and Logo Taskforce (Wisconsin)
  • Woodland Indian Community Center-Lansing (Michigan)
  • Youth “Indian” Mascot and Logo Task force (Wisconsin)


These prominent Native Americans have put their opposition to the Redskins' name on the public record:

Interviews at a powwow in Towson, Maryland find several Native Americans who favor a change of the Redskins name.[240]

Comments in the media[edit]

Print publications[edit]

Major news organizations continue to use the Redskins name,[241] however the following publications limit their use of the team nickname, although most said they would not strike "Redskins" from quotations:

  • The Portland Oregonian (April 1992): Following Native American protests at the World Series and Super Bowl, the editor made the decision to stop using all Native American names.[242]
  • Kansas City Star (September 24, 2012): The Star's public editor defended his publications' "longtime policy" of avoiding the term "Washington Redskins" by finding "no compelling reason ... to reprint an egregiously offensive term as a casual matter of course."[243]
  • Washington City Paper (October 18, 2012): The alt weekly WCP unveiled the results of its readers poll, referring to the capital's NFL team thereafter only as "Washington Pigskins" (or "'Skins") "instead of the name the team prefers, which is a pejorative term for Native Americans."[244]
  • The New Republic's editor, Franklin Foer, tweeted that his publication would follow Slate's "air-tight" logic and drop "Redskins" from its stylebook.[245]
  • Mother Jones magazine said it would be "tweaking our house style guide" by following Slate, The New Republic, and the Washington City Paper, referring thereafter to "Washington's pro football team."[246]
  • The Richmond Free Press announced October 17, 2013 that it will no longer use the Washington NFL team name in news or editorial columns because it is "insulting to Native Americans, racist, and divisive".[247]
  • San Francisco Chronicle (October 30, 2013): The Chronicle's managing editor Audrey Cooper told KCBS that the paper would refer to the team as "Washington," adding, "Why should we err on the side of using an offensive term when we don't have to?[248]
  • The Syracuse New Times (October 30th, 2013)[249]
  • Orange County Register (November 7, 2013): Speaking on 'Redskins,' OCR sports editor Todd Harmonson said, "It is the Register’s policy to avoid using such slurs, so we will not use this one, except in stories about the controversy surrounding its use.”[250]
  • The Seattle Times (June 18, 2014) [251]
  • The Detroit News (June 25, 2014) [252]

These publications, while continuing to print the name, have published editorials advocating a change:

Online publications[edit]

  • DCist (February 11, 2013): The Washington-area news website DCist published an editorial announcing it would refer to the local NFL club as the Washington football team instead of its trademarked name, which DCist agreed is "distasteful, vulgar, and racist."[259]
  • Slate in a story (August 8, 2013) stated, "This is the last Slate article that will refer to the Washington NFL team as the Redskins."[260]
  • Sports Grid (September 17, 2013)[261]
  • The Capital News Service (October 31, 2013): This news wire service at the Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland said it would thereafter call the team “Washington’s NFL franchise.”[262]

Broadcast media[edit]

Robert Lipsyte states that there has been discussion about the use of the name at ESPN, but it is unlikely that it or any other major sports network will stop using Redskins in reporting due to a general consensus that it should report the news (including the controversy) but not take sides, and that taking sides would injure their ability to cover the games. There are also the corporate affiliations that make it unlikely.[263] Steven Gaydos, Vice President & Executive Editor of Variety states his opinion that the broadcast networks should tackle the Redskins name issue.[264]


The following individuals in the media have taken a position that the name should be changed, some also deciding that they will stop using it in their own reporting.

Support for the name in the media[edit]

In 1992, columnist Andy Rooney wrote that protesting team names such as "Redskins" is silly, but after receiving many letters from Native Americans he wrote "when so many people complain about one thing, you have to assume you may have been wrong".[312]

In 2005, Marc Fisher wrote that the issue of Native American sports team names was not clear-cut given the support for some teams by native leaders. "Most people simultaneously cherish history and want to do the right thing", which for Fisher explained the results of the 2002 poll supporting the Washington Redskins name.[313]

Sports writer Rick Reilly of ESPN, making a case similar to the owner and fans that all discussions about native mascots and names are mere political correctness, "silly", and do not take into account the Native Americans who are not offended. As proof Reilly quotes his father-in-law, a member of the Blackfeet tribe of Montana.[314] However, the father-in-law, Bob Burns, has replied that he was misquoted, and actually said "if the name offends someone, change it".[315] Dave Zirin, sports editor for The Nation, replied in an article that Reilly's was the "Most Irredeemably Stupid Defense of the Redskins Name You Will Ever Read".[316] (Many writers and bloggers were quick to point out that Reilly's 2013 column could be used as a point-for-point counter-argument to his 1991 Sports Illustrated column titled "Let's Bust Those Chops: Native Americans have every reason to object to the way they're caricatured by teams.")[317]

On Fox News, George Will commented about general complaints regarding Indian mascots: “It’s capricious action by the sensitivity police, and they ought to mind their own business”.[318]

In a commentary published by The National Interest, conservative W. James Antle III supports the position that, based upon public opinion polls, the number of Native American opposed to "Redskins" has not reached the number needed to warrant defining the name as an offensive slur. He rejects the criticism of polls as unrepresentative based upon the lack of identification of respondents as members of tribes who are culturally Native American, and labels the those who oppose the name as "activists" who have manufactured the controversy.[319] Similar opinions emphasizing the view that the entire controversy is a liberal invention were stated in National Review by Rich Lowry[320] and Dennis Prager;[321] and by Rush Limbaugh on his radio broadcast.[322] In response to the cancellation of the Redskin's trademarks by the Trademark Trial and Appeals Board, commentator Glenn Beck said "This isn't America anymore."[323]

Current status[edit]

Current interest in the controversy began in February 2013 with a symposium "Racist Stereotypes and Cultural Appropriation in American Sports" at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian. The Washington Redskins name and imagery was the topic of the final panel discussion of that symposium. Although team representatives were invited, none attended. In May 2013 ten members of Congress sent a letter to the team owner and the NFL Commissioner requesting that the name be changed since it is offensive to Native Americans. Snyder famously told USA Today in May 2013, "We'll never change the name. [...] It's that simple. NEVER — you can use caps."[324] However, team lawyer Lanny Davis started walking back that idea, telling D.C. radio station 106.7 The Fan, “I don’t always tell [Snyder] what he wants to hear. [...] I don’t think saying all caps — never is the right tone. [...] I don’t think [Snyder] is going to say all caps — never again.”[325] In June 2013 Roger Goodell cited the nickname's origins and traditions and polls that support its popularity.[326][327]

The June 2014 decision by the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB) to cancel the team's Federal trademarks was based upon a number of factors. The trademarks were granted in 1967, so the primary factors were:

  1. that the term "redskin" refers to Native Americans (rather than having an "independent meaning" as the team sometimes claims)
  2. that the use of the term is disparaging or pejorative during the period beginning in 1967

The evidence for factor one considered by the TTAB included the costumes worn by both the cheerleaders and marching band from the 1960s until the 1980s, and the native imagery used on the press guides for many years. Evidence for factor two, the disparaging nature of the term, include the similarity of "redskin" to other racial slurs based upon physical characteristics, the dictionary definition of the term, and the testimony by both Native American organizations and individuals that the term is offensive.[328]

Continuing calls for change[edit]

At its annual conference the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights (LCCHR) passed a unanimous resolution of the 85 representatives present that, while recognizing that a business has the First Amendment right to use any name that it chooses, others need not be complicit in the use of a pejorative and insulting name; and calling upon all Federal, state and local government entities "to end any preferential tax, zoning, or policy treatment that could be viewed as supporting the franchise as long as it retains its current team name". The resolution also commended the "current and former government officials, media outlets, and other entities that have encouraged the Washington Redskins franchise to change its team name or that have refused to be complicit in promoting the current team name".[329] In response, the team released a brief statement reiterated their previous position, and quoting two individuals as being both Native American and Redskins fans who do not want the name to change.[330] The LCCHR issued a press release in 2014 applauding the decision to cancel the trademark protection for the team's name.[331] The NAACP issued their own press release supporting the TTAB decision stating "The NAACP has called specifically for this name change since 1992, and will continue to stand with the Native Indian community until the derogatory moniker has been changed."[332]

On June 19, 2014 a group of investors filed a shareholder proposal asking FedEx to “respond to reputational damage from its association with the Washington D.C. NFL franchise team” and its name controversy. FedEx possesses the naming rights to the team’s stadium, FedExField, in Landover, MD through 2026.[333] The CEO of FedEx, Fred Smith, declined to give an answer when asked about the company's sponsorship.[334] The major sponsors, including not only FedEx but Bank of America, Anheuser-Busch, and Sprint/Nextel; have made no public response to media inquiries regarding the name of the team.[335]

See also[edit]


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  6. ^ "allan responds to 50 us letter form law makers". 2014. Retrieved Jun 24, 2014. 
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  9. ^ "Defense of "Redskins" Name Shattered - Pressure to Now Change "Racist" Name Grows". May 29, 2014. 
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  11. ^ wiktionary:peau-rouge
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  13. ^ Gugliotta, Guy (October 3, 2005). "A Linguist's Alternative History of 'Redskin'". The Washington Post. Retrieved August 21, 2011. 
  14. ^ "'Redskin': A fun team name or racial epithet?". May 7, 2014. 
  15. ^ Bruce Stapleton (March 6, 2001). Redskins: Racial Slur or Symbol of Success?. iUniverse. ISBN 0595171672. 
  16. ^ Steinberg, Dan (October 23, 2012). "‘Around the Horn’ and the Redskins". The Washington Post. Retrieved 02/06/2013. 
  17. ^ "Definition of REDSKIN". Merriam-Webster. 
  18. ^ The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. 2011. 
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  21. ^ "Definition of redskin". Collins English Dictionary. 
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  • King, C. R., and Charles F. Springwood, eds. Team Spirits The Native American Mascots Controversy. New York: University of Nebraska, 2001. 191-207.Print.
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  • Vickers, Scott. "American Identities: From Stereotype to Archetype in Art and Literature." Michigan Civil Rights Commission Report (1998): 68-69. Print.
  • Miller, Jackson B. ""Indians" "Braves" and "Redskins". A Performative Struggle for Control of an Image." Quarterly Journal of Speech 85 (1999): 188-202. JSTOR. Web.

External links[edit]