Washington Redskins name controversy
The Washington Redskins name controversy involves the name and logo of the Washington Redskins, a National Football League (NFL) franchise in the Washington metropolitan area. Native Americans have been questioning the use of the name and image since the 1960s, while the topic has received widespread public attention since the 1990s. Native Americans officially demanding change include hundreds of tribal nations, national tribal organizations, civil rights organizations, and individuals. The largest of these organizations, the National Congress of American Indians, counted the enrollment of its member tribes as totaling 1.2 million individuals in 2013. According to the American Psychological Association as of 2010, over 115 professional organizations representing civil rights, educational, athletic, and scientific experts have published resolutions or policies that state that the use of Native American names and/or symbols by non-native sports teams is a harmful form of ethnic stereotyping that promotes misunderstanding and prejudice, contributing to other problems faced by Native Americans. The Washington, D.C., team is only one example of the larger controversy, but it receives more public attention because modern dictionaries define the name as derogatory or insulting and because the team represents the nation's capital. Public awareness of the issues has been growing based upon social science research on the harmful effects of stereotyping. The number of high school and college teams using the Redskins name has been declining steadily along with other Native American mascots. There is also a growing number of public officials, sports commentators and other journalists advocating a change.
As well as picketing and other forms of direct protest, opponents took 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) voted to cancel the Redskins federal trademark registrations, considering them "disparaging to Native Americans". The cancellation was affirmed in 2015 by the judge in a first appeal by the Redskins. However, in June 2017 the Supreme Court of the United States came to a unanimous decision in a different case, ruling that not allowing disparaging names to be protected by trademark registration is an unconstitutional infringement of freedom of speech, thus voiding the legal basis for the cancellation of the Redskins' trademarks.
Support for continued use of the name has come from the team's owners, management, the NFL Commissioner, and a majority of fans, which include some Native American individuals. Supporters say that the name honors the achievements and virtues of Native Americans, and that it is not intended in a negative manner. Some, such as team president Bruce Allen, also point to the use of Redskins by three high school teams, two on reservations, that have a majority of Native American students. Supporters have asserted that a majority of Native Americans are not offended by the name based upon a national poll by Annenberg Public Policy Center in 2004. In a commentary published soon after that poll, 15 Native American scholars collaborated on a critique that stated that there were so many flaws in the Annenberg study that rather than being a measure of Native American opinion, it was an expression of white privilege and colonialism. Specific criticism of the methodology includes the use of self-reporting to identify Native Americans, which violated the basic principles supporting the validity of public opinion polling. In May 2016, the Washington Post published a poll that duplicated the central question posed in 2004, yielding an identical result.
- 1 History
- 2 Controversy
- 3 Responses to the controversy
- 4 Public opinion polls
- 5 See also
- 6 Notes
- 7 References
- 8 External links
In 1933 the football team that shared both the name and playing field with the Boston Braves baseball team moved to Fenway Park, already home to the Boston Red Sox. Co-owner George Preston Marshall changed the name to the Redskins, more likely to avoid confusion while retaining the Indian imagery of the team than to honor coach William Henry "Lone Star" Dietz, whose identity as a Native American was debated. The logo for the NFL Braves was similar to the current logo, a Native American head in profile with braids and trailing feathers. The current logo, proposed by Walter Wetzel, a former Blackfeet tribal chairman and prior president of the National Congress of American Indians, was introduced in 1972 and is modeled after the likeness on the Buffalo nickel. Members of the Blackfeet tribe express a range of opinions, from support to indifference to strong opposition to the Redskins name based upon their personal experiences.
Advocates of changing the team's name say that 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. "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."
Origin and meaning of redskin
The historical context for the emergence in the Americas of racial identities based upon skin color was the establishment of colonies which developed a plantation economy dependent upon slave labor. Before that, the British identified themselves as Christians rather than white. "At the start of the eighteenth century, Indians and Europeans rarely mentioned the color of each other’s skins. By midcentury, remarks about skin color and the categorization of peoples by simple color-coded labels (red, white, black) had become commonplace."
Documents from the colonial period indicate that the use of "red" as an identifier by Native Americans for themselves emerged in the context of Indian-European diplomacy in the southeastern region of North America, before later being adopted by Europeans and becoming a generic label for all Native Americans.:627–8 Linguistic evidence indicates that, while some tribes may have used red to refer to themselves during the Pre-Columbian era based upon their origin stories,:634 the general use of the term was in response to meeting people who called themselves "white" and their slaves "black".:629 The choice of red rather than other colors may have been due to cultural associations, rather than skin color.:632
In the debate over the meaning of the word "redskin", team supporters frequently cite a paper by Ives Goddard, a Smithsonian Institution senior linguist and curator emeritus, who asserts that the term was a direct translation of words used by Native Americans to refer to themselves and was benign in its original meaning. In an interview Goddard admits that it is impossible to verify if the native words were accurately translated. Darren R. Reid, a history lecturer at Coventry University, contends that Native American usage was generally attributed to them by European writers. Reid states that the team logo works together with the name to reinforce an unrealistic stereotype: "It is not up to non-Indians to define an idealized image of what it is to a Native American." The "positive" stereotypes allow fans and supporters to honestly state that they are honoring Native Americans, but this is "...forcing your idea of what it is to honour those people onto them and that, fundamentally, is disrespectful."
Advocates of changing the name emphasize current meanings in dictionaries of American English, which include "usually offensive", "disparaging",[a] "insulting",[dead link] and "taboo". Such meanings are consistent with the usage found in books in the period between 1875 and 1930, which is after that studied by Goddard. John McWhorter, an associate professor of linguistics at Columbia University, compares "redskin" becoming a slur to other racial terms, such as "Oriental", which acquired implied meanings associated with contempt.
A controversial etymological claim is that the term emerged from the practice of paying a bounty for Indians, and that "redskin" refers to the bloody scalp of Native Americans. Although official documents do not use the word in this way, an historical association between the use of "redskin" and the paying of bounties can be made. In 1863, a Winona, Minnesota, newspaper, the Daily Republican, printed an announcement: "The state reward for dead Indians has been increased to $200 for every red-skin sent to Purgatory. This sum is more than the dead bodies of all the Indians east of the Red River are worth." A news story published by the Atchison Daily Champion in Atchison, Kansas, on October 9, 1885, tells of the settlers "hunt for redskins, with a view of obtaining their scalps" valued at $250. For C. Richard King the lack of direct evidence does not mean that contemporary Native people are wrong to draw an association between a term that empathizes an identity based upon skin color and a history that commodified Native American body parts.
The meaning of the term "redskin" was addressed in two cases challenging the trademark registrations held by Pro-Football, Inc., the team's corporate entity. The challenge was based upon a provision of the Lanham Act which prohibited the registration of any mark that “may disparage persons, institutions, beliefs, or national symbols, or bring them into contempt, or disrepute.” The first case, Harjo etal. v Pro-Football, Inc. was filed in 1992 by Suzan Shown Harjo and six other Native American leaders. In 1999 the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB) canceled the federal registrations for the Redskins marks. In 2005 the United States District Court for the District of Columbia reversed the TTAB's decision on the grounds of insufficient evidence of disparagement. Subsequent appeals were also rejected on the basis of laches, that the Native American petitioners had pursued their rights in an untimely manner.
A second case was filed with younger plaintiffs not effected by laches, led by Amanda Blackhorse. The linguistic expert for the petitioners, Geoffrey Nunberg, successfully argued that whatever its origins, "redskins" was a slur at the time of the trademark registrations, 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. "Nigger" also began as a benign reference to skin color, only to become a racial slur through disparaging use. On June 18, 2014, the TTAB again voted to cancel the trademarks in a two to one decision that held that the term "redskins" is disparaging to a "substantial composite of Native Americans."  Evidence of disparagement include the frequent references to "scalping" made by sportswriters for sixty years when reporting the Redskins loss of a game, and passages from movies made from the 1940s to the 1960s using "redskin" to refer to Native Americans as a savage enemy. The TTAB majority held that the NCAI represented about 30 percent of Native Americans during the time in question, which the Board found satisfied the substantial composite test of the trademark law.
In December 2015, the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals struck down the disparagement prohibition in the trademark law in a case (Matal v. Tam) involving a denial of trademark registration to the Asian-American band The Slants. The majority opinion stated, in part, that "[w]hatever our personal feelings about the mark at issue here, or other disparaging marks, the First Amendment forbids government regulators to deny registration because they find speech likely to offend others." On June 19, 2017, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled in favor of Tam, stating "The disparagement clause violates the First Amendment’s Free Speech Clause. Contrary to the Government’s contention, trademarks are private, not government speech." On June 29, 2017, both the Native American petitioners and the Justice Department withdrew from any further litigation now that the Supreme Court has rendered the legal issue moot. While team owner Daniel Snyder expresses the opinion that the court decision is a victory for the team, the Executive Director of the NCAI asserts that the name remains a slur, and the decision that grants it First Amendment protection does not alter any of the arguments against its continued use.
Use by Native Americans
Supporters of the Redskins name note that three predominantly Native American high schools use the name for their sports teams, suggesting that it can be acceptable. However, in 2013 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". Teec Nos Pos, in the Navajo Nation, is 96.5% Native American. Wellpinit, Washington, a town within a reservation of the Spokane people, is 79.3% Native American. In 2014, Wellpinit High School voted to keep the Redskins name. The third school, Kingston High School in Kingston, Oklahoma is 57.69% Native American.
Native American writer and attorney Gyasi Ross compares Native American use of variations of the word "redskin" with African-American use of variations of the word "nigger"; specifically Natives calling each other "skins" as analogous to "nigga". The use of terms by some members of minority communities does not mean that the same may be used by outsiders; this is generally recognized by white people with regard to black expressions, yet whites feel free to say how Natives should feel about "redskin". Ross also notes that there is no consensus among Natives regarding either opposition to the Washington team's use of the name, or the importance of the issue compared to more immediate concerns. However, in response to the argument that Native Americans ought to focus on social issues larger than a team name, Ross stated that "Native people shouldn't be forced to choose between living or racial discrimination. Those are false binaries."
The Redskins controversy began receiving more attention 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. Subsequently, 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. A broader range of persons spoke 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 by academic, civil rights and religious organizations were added to those that Native American groups have been making for decades.
In 2017, when professional sports has dealt with a number of racial issues, from individual acts by players to widespread protests during the National Anthem, some commentators speculate why there has been no action to address the stereotyping of Native Americans, including the decision to have the Washington Redskins host a game on Thanksgiving.
The issue is often discussed in the media in terms of offensiveness or political correctness, which reduces it to feelings and opinions, and prevents full understanding of the historical, psychological and sociological context provided by academic research on the negative effects of the use of Native American names and images by sports teams. The effect of stereotyping on high or low expectations, confidence, and academic performance has been well-established. This effect is enhanced due to the invisibility of Native Americans in mainstream society and media, leaving stereotypes as the primary basis for thinking about the abilities and traits associated with Natives, including the roles and opportunities Natives Americans envision for themselves. Furthermore, even when stereotypes are positive (e.g. "Natives Americans are spiritual"), they may have a limiting, detrimental effect on individuals. Stereotyping may directly affect the academic performance and self-esteem of Native American youth, whose people face high rates of suicide, unemployment, and poverty. 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. Research indicates that exposure to any stereotypes increased the likelihood of stereotypical thinking with regard to other minority groups in addition to the target of the stereotype, a "spreading effect".
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. Richard Lapchick, director emeritus of Northeastern University's Center for the Study of Sport in Society, wrote: "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?"  The unofficial mascot of the Redskins team was Zema Williams (aka Chief Zee), an African American man who attended games for 38 years beginning in 1978 dressed in a red faux "Indian" costume, complete with feathered war bonnet and rubber tomahawk. Other fans dress in similar costumes for games.
In a report published by the Center for American Progress summarizing the research on "The Real Impact of Native Mascots and Team Names on American Indian and Alaska Native Youth", a case is made that the public debate misses the point, since individual opinions on either side do not matter given the measurable effects on the mental health of Native American young people exposed to such misrepresentations of their ethnic identity, and the often hostile or insulting behavior of non-natives that occur when teams with such names and mascots play. Clinical Psychologist Michael Friedman writes that the use of Native imagery, in particular the use of a dictionary defined slur, is a form of bullying, the negative impact of which is magnified by its being officially sanctioned.
The majority of scholars argue that the use of any stereotype, whether positive or negative, is a hindrance to the advancement of the targeted group. The national organizations representing several academic disciplines, after reviewing the research done on the issue, have passed resolutions calling for the end of all Native American mascots and images in sports. These include the Society of Indian Psychologists (1999), the American Counseling Association (2001), the American Psychological Association (2005), the American Sociological Association (2007). and the American Anthropological Association (2015). The executive board of the nation's leading organization of scholars of U.S. history approved a resolution in April 2015: "The Organization of American Historians hereby adds its voice to the growing demands by Native American organizations, our sister disciplines, and conscientious people of all ethnic backgrounds, to change the name and logo of the Washington 'Redskins'."
Native American advocates of change
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. 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. The NCAI issued a new report in 2013 summarizing opposition to Indian mascots and team names generally, and the Washington Redskins in particular. In the trademark case, the TTAB placed significance on the NCAI opposition, estimating that the organization represented about 30% of the Native American population at the time the trademarks were granted, which met their criteria for a "substantial composite" of Native Americans finding the name disparaging. In its amicus brief filed in the case, the NCAI states that the combined enrollment of its member tribes in 2013 was 1.2 million individuals.
Many tribal councils have passed resolutions or issued statements regarding their opposition to the name of the Washington Redskins, including the Cherokee and Comanche Nations of Oklahoma, the Inter Tribal Council of Arizona, the Inter-Tribal Council of the Five Civilized Tribes, the Oneida Indian Nation (New York), the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe (North Dakota) and the United South and Eastern Tribes (USET). 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. Other Native American groups advocating change include: the Native American Bar Association of DC, the National Caucus of Native American State Legislators, and the Society of American Indian Government Employees.
Individual Native Americans who are or have been actively opposed to the Redskins' name include:
- Author Sherman Alexie (Spokane)
- Co-founder of the American Indian Movement Clyde Bellecourt (Ojibwe)
- Former U.S. Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (Northern Cheyenne)
- Historian and author Vine Deloria, Jr. (Sioux)
- Director of National Museum of the American Indian Kevin Gover (Pawnee)
- Author and recent Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient Suzan Shown Harjo (Cheyenne/Hodulgee Muscogee)
- Activist/actor Russell Means (Oglala Lakota)
Civil rights and religious organizations
At its 2013 annual conference, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights (LCCHR), which includes the NAACP and the ACLU as members, 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". In response, the team released a brief statement reiterating their previous position, and quoting two individuals as being both Native American and Redskins fans who do not want the name to change. The LCCHR also issued a press release in 2014 applauding the decision to cancel the trademark protection for the team's name. 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."
The Fritz Pollard Alliance, a non-profit organization closely allied with the NFL on civil rights issues, announced its support of a name change in 2015 after repeated attempts to discuss the issue with the team owner and representatives. An attorney for the Alliance, N. Jeremi Duru, an American University law professor, made a study of the controversy in which he concluded that Native Americans are justified in finding the name offensive.
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. The Anti-Defamation League was one of the organizations signing a letter to broadcasters urging them to avoid using the name. The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism also advocates a name change.
In 2013 a group of 61 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.
In June 2016; Sidwell Friends School, affiliated with the Quakers, amended its dress code to ban apparel with the Redskins name or logo as "offensive and antithetical to the values of the community". In August 2017; another private school in Montgomery County, Maryland, adopted a similar policy.
Although often assumed to be a debate of recent origins, local Washington, D.C. newspapers have published news items on the controversy many times since at least 1971, all in response to Native American individuals or organizations asking for the name to be changed. National protests began in 1988, after the team's Super Bowl XXII victory, prompting numerous Native Americans to write letters to Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke; others boycotted Redskins products and protested, but Cooke rejected the possibility of change. There was a protest of about 2,000 people at the 1992 Super Bowl between the Redskins and the Buffalo Bills; the American Indian Movement's (AIM) Vernon Bellecourt was one of the main organizers of the protest.
Since 2013, picketing at stadiums has occurred occasionally when the Redskins have played, particularly in cities with a significant population of Native Americans, such as Dallas, Denver and Minneapolis. The latter protest was supported by several Minnesota politicians. Picketing resumed for the 2014 season in Glendale, Arizona, when the team played the Arizona Cardinals, and again the largest rally was in Minneapolis, where estimates of the number of protestors was between 3,500 and 5,000. At a protest in Philadelphia in 2017, Native Americans pointed out the irony of NFL players making a statement opposing racial injustice by "taking a knee" for the National Anthem while one of the teams taking the field continues to use a racially offensive name and logo.
FedEx owns the naming rights to the team's stadium, FedExField, through 2026, and has been the only corporate sponsor officially subject to boycotts by Native Americans: the Osage Nation, the Native American Rights Fund (NARF), and the Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes, the largest tribe of Native Alaskan peoples.
On December 13, 2017 a Native American group, Rising Hearts, created several parody web sites including one for the team and a Twitter campaign, that made it appear that the Redskins had agreed to change its name to the Washington Redhawks for the 2018 season. The organizers state that their intention is to stimulate debate that will eventually lead to an actual name change. At a news conference the following day they stated that their effort was culture jamming, and were surprised that the Redskins issued a statement denying any plans to change, as if it were serious, or "fake news".
Responses to the controversy
Following the February 2013 symposium "Racist Stereotypes and Cultural Appropriation in American Sports" at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian, 10 members of Congress sent a letter to the Redskins' owner and the NFL Commissioner requesting that the name be changed since it is offensive to Native Americans. In response, Daniel Snyder told USA Today: "We'll never change the name. ... It's that simple. NEVER—you can use caps." Snyder addressed an open letter to fans that was published in The Washington Post on October 9, 2013; in which he stated that the most important meaning of the name 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 coach George Allen consulted with the Red Cloud Indian Fund on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation when designing the logo. In 2013, 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."
Snyder's response, and that of other supporters and fans, reflects the psychology of identification with sports teams. Self-esteem becomes bound to the players and the team, with many beneficial but also some unfortunate consequences, including denial or rationalization of misbehavior.
In June 2013, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell defended the name by citing its origins, traditions and polls that support its popularity. In February 2018, following the announcement by MLB Commissioner Robert Manfred that the Cleveland Indians would remove their Chief Wahoo logo from the stadium and uniforms, Goodell stated that the Redskins name and logo would remain, primarily citing the 2016 Washington Post opinion poll.
On their website the team states that the 2014 annual NFL poll showing 71 percent support for the name, "along with the poll taken among Native Americans by the Annenberg Institute, demonstrates continued, widespread and deep opposition to the Redskins changing our name... 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."
The team's president, 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, and that the vast majority of both Native Americans and the public do not find the name offensive.
Conservative columnists George Will and Pat Buchanan state that opponents of the team name are being oversensitive, although Charles Krauthammer drew a parallel between the evolution of "Negro" and "Redskin" from being in common use to being condescending and insulting. W. James Antle III, Rich Lowry, and Dennis Prager wrote that outrage over mascots is manufactured by white liberals, rather than being the authentic voice of Native Americans.
Individual Native American opinion in support of Redskins name
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". Roger Goodell wrote a letter to Congress that in part pointed to "recent remarks from Chief Steven Dodson, an American Inuit chief" to indicate support for the nickname among Native Americans. Soon it was reported that the Dodson was neither a full-blooded Inuit nor a "Chief" and that court records linked him to instances of "theft, paternity, and domestic violence matters." The executive director of the Inuit Circumpolar Council-Alaska, said that neither "Chief" nor "Indian" are terms used by Alaska's native peoples.
Also in 2013, a brother and sister in Oneida, New York, stated that they were Native American (Mohawk) and ardent Redskins fans. Three Virginia Indian leaders said in 2013 that 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.[b] Robert "Two Eagles" Green, retired chief of the Fredericksburg area Patawomeck Tribe, stated on a radio talk show he would be offended if the team changed its name. In an article in The American Spectator, the current chief of the Patawomeck Tribe, John Lightner, said that while he was not offended by the current name, he would support changing the team to the Washington Potomacs.
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. 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." This action was criticized by Amanda Blackhorse, also Navajo, and described as a publicity stunt. 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. Later that year, members of the Navajo and Zuni Tribes and students from the Red Mesa Redskins High School attended a Redskins vs. Cardinals game as guests of the Washington team.
In 2014 the Redskins released a two-minute video on YouTube entitled "Redskins is a Powerful Name" in which several Native Americans express their support for the team. Of the fourteen individuals, five are members of the Chippewa Cree tribe on the Rocky Boy Indian Reservation in Montana and are associated with the Team Redskins Rodeo club. Two are Mike Wetzel and Don Wetzel, Jr. (Blackfeet), descendants of the logo designer, and the six others are members of various tribes and state that they are fans of the team and find nothing wrong with the name, or think it is positive. One of the individuals in the video is Mark One Wolf, who was reported as being born Mark E. Yancey in Washington, D.C., of African-American and Japanese descent.
Although the majority of those advocating a name change are Democrats, there is no indication that the issue is of any real significance in electoral decisions given that Native Americans are such a small percentage of the electorate and are not likely to influence the outcome of any election. There are only eight states where Natives make up greater than 2 percent of the population: Alaska, Arizona, Montana, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota and Wyoming. However, polls show a definite political difference in the opinion of the general public, with only 58% of Democrats opposing a name change versus 89% of Republicans. Statements by political figures have generally been expressions of personal opinion rather than recommendations for government action. There have also been non-binding resolutions advocating name change proposed in New Jersey and passed in Minneapolis, New York State and California.
The topic came up in a 2013 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, but that he did not have a stake in the issue as he is not an owner of a professional sports team. In November 2015 Obama, speaking at the White House Tribal Nations Conference, stated "Names and mascots of sports teams like the Washington Redskins perpetuate negative stereotypes of Native Americans" and praised Adidas for a new initiative to help schools change names and mascots by designing new logos and paying for part of the cost of new uniforms. On May 22, 2014, fifty U.S. Senators, forty-eight Democrats and two Independents, sent a letter to NFL Commissioner Goodell asking the league, referencing the Donald Sterling case, to "send the same clear message as the NBA did: that racism and bigotry have no place in professional sports." Five Democratic Senators declined to sign the letter, and Republicans were not invited to do so. No Senators have publicly supported the name, but rather have either declined to give an opinion or stated their opposition to Senate involvement in the issue. During his campaign, President Donald Trump defended the name.
DC Metro area jurisdictions
Much of the local political discussion has been about building a stadium, beginning in the 1990s when a Maryland location was chosen for what is now FedExField. With the possibility of building a new stadium in the near future, both the previous and current mayors of the District of Columbia have stated that a name change must be part of the discussion, however the team rejects that possibiltiy. Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe has met with the owner to discuss the building of a new stadium in Virginia. 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 NFL fans move to the Baltimore Ravens. Several Maryland politicians have stated that the name should change, but governor Larry Hogan opposes any change, also citing the desire to keep the stadium in Maryland. 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, and maintain that the name is entirely a business decision for the team to make. An agency of the commonwealth, the Virginia Lottery, is a sponsor of the team, and says it has never had any complaints.
Name change as a business decision
Two professors at the Goizueta Business School at Emory University summarized their research in a New York Times editorial. They found that studies of college teams that have changed their names and mascots indicate that doing so has a long-term financial benefit. While vocal opponents of change often threatened withdrawal of support, this never materialized. There have been no name changes by professional teams, though a comparison of NFL teams shows the highest negative trend in brand equity affects the Washington Redskins and the Kansas City Chiefs, calling into question the business logic of retaining Native American names or logos that are offensive to even a minority. In a commentary for Forbes, Tom Van Riper states that research specifically considering the fan loyalty and traditions of the team indicates that the value of the name as a brand is significant, and unlikely to change for business reasons. An alternative opinion is that the team would benefit from a re-branding, but any new name would need to be carefully selected. In 2014 sales of Redskins merchandise declined 35% from the prior year. "People are having a second thoughts about wearing a T-shirt with the logo or name that it has now been called racist," said Matt Powell, senior analyst for SportsSourceOne. A team spokesman attributed the decline to dismal performance in the 2013 season, but other teams with bad records have not seen such a steep decline in sales. Corporate sponsors have either made no public response to media inquiries regarding the name or stated that they play no role in the decision, and defer to the team and the NFL. Despite the name controversy, the value of the team has risen $700 million to $2.4 billion (40%), making them the third most valuable franchise in the NFL, based upon the valuations published by Forbes magazine in 2014 and 2015.
Other teams that use the name Redskins
The number of high schools using the Redskins name has been in steady decline, 40% having had local efforts to change the name. Between 1988 and April 2013, 28 high schools in 18 states had done so. By December, 2017, the number of high school "Redskins" had continued to decline from 62 to 49, including four affected by a 2015 California law. College teams that had been Redskins changed their names voluntarily decades ago, the University of Utah became the Utah Utes in 1972, Miami University became the RedHawks in 1997, and the Southern Nazarene University became the Crimson Storm in 1998.
Public opinion polls
While varying somewhat, national opinion polls consistently indicate that a majority of the general public do not advocate a name change: 79 percent (April 2013), 60 percent (June 2014), and 71 percent (September 2014).  While yielding overall results similar to national polls, with a majority supporting the team keeping the name, local surveys often ask additional questions. In three polls, although they supported the team name, 59 percent, 56 percent, and 53 percent of DC, Maryland, and Virginia fans also said that the word "redskin" is offensive to Native Americans in at least some contexts. The September 2014 national poll found that 68 percent think the name is not disrespectful of Native Americans, 19 percent say it shows "some" disrespect, and 9 percent say it is "a lot" disrespectful. The 2016 annual NFL poll found significant difference of opinion based upon age and race. Older respondents are opposed to a name change, but those between 18 and 29 are strongly (70%) in favor of a change. While 77% of all white fans believe the name should not be changed, only 38% of African-American and 33% of Latino fans agree, which is a change since the 2014 poll in which there was little difference between white and non-white opinion.
Louis Gray, president of the Tulsa Indian Coalition Against Racism and an Osage Indian said, "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 epithet would be offensive."
The survey most frequently cited by opponents of change as definitive of Native American opinion was performed in 2004 as part of the National Annenberg Election Survey. Among other questions regarding election year issues, respondents who identified themselves as being Native American 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. The methods used in this survey and the conclusions that can be drawn from it have been criticized by social scientists, Native American scholars and legal experts for years. In August, 2015, a memo written by senior researchers at the organization responsible for collecting the data for the survey which made it clear that it should not be taken as an accurate reflection of Native American attitudes at the time.
In May 2016, The Washington Post released a poll of self-identified Native Americans that produced the same results as the 2004 Annenberg poll, that 90% of the 504 respondents were "not bothered" by the team's name. NCAI Executive Director Jacqueline Pata stated "The survey doesn't recognize the psychological impacts these racist names and imagery have on American Indian and Alaska Natives. It is not respectful to who we are as Native people. This poll still doesn't make it right." The Native American Journalists Association issued a statement calling the publication of the poll, and the reporting of its significance, as not only inaccurate and misleading but unethical. "The reporters and editors behind this story must have known that it would be used as justification for the continued use of these harmful, racist mascots. They were either willfully malicious or dangerously naïve in the process and reporting used in this story, and neither is acceptable from any journalistic institution."
An alternative method to standard opinion polls was used by the Center for Indigenous Peoples Studies at California State University, San Bernardino. A survey was conducted of 400 individuals, with 98 individuals positively identified as Native Americans. Surveyors verified Native American status of respondents claiming Native affiliation. Most Native American survey respondents were collected at pow-wows, a form of non-probabilistic convenience sampling. 67% of the Native Americans (n=66) polled agreed with the statement that "Redskins" is racial or racist. The response from non-natives was almost the opposite, with 68% responding that the name is not offensive.
- Cleveland Indians name and logo controversy
- Hail to the Redskins
- List of sports team names and mascots derived from indigenous peoples
- Originally a translation of 18th-century Mississippi Valley French Peau Rouge, Native American person (peau, skin + rouge, red), a translation of non-deprecatory Native American self-designations such as Fox meeshkwinameshkaata, literally, "one having red skin" : meshkw-, red + -i-nameshk-, skin + -aa-, to have + -ta, participle suffix (used in opposition to designations of persons of European origin as waapeshkinameshkaata, "one having white skin" : waapeshk-, white + -i-nameshk-, skin + -aa-, to have + -ta, participle suffix).
- In 2016, Federal recognition was granted to the Pamunkey Tribe of Virginia.
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