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The Other R-Word: Time for This Football Team to Lose Their Name

The Other R-Word: Time for This Football Team to Lose Their Name

Native American imagery isn’t uncommon in the names of sports teams in the United States, but one team in particular has attracted unprecedented media attention in recent years, and this football season could prove to be a tipping point. The Washington-based football team doesn’t just use a racial slur as its name: it also uses a racist caricature as a mascot. Finally, it would appear that fans, sports writers, Native Americans and supporters have had enough, and the Washington team may finally be forced to change its name.

You may have noticed I chose not to spell out the team’s name. I’m joining a growing list of journalists and publications who prefer to refer to it as “the Washington football team” or “Dan Snyder’s team” (in a reference to its recalcitrant owner) rather than using a racial slur in my reporting. As a matter of policy, Slate, the Washington City Paper, and several other news organizations are refusing to print the team name, while more and more journalists are pledging not to use it (Christine Brennan at USA Today just joined our ranks).

Not using the name is a mark of deference and respect to members of the Native American community who have been steadily protesting the use of racist team names and mascots across the United States, including in the case of the Washington team. They argue that it’s high time to drop racist imagery from both pro and amateur sports, and growing numbers of teams are starting to agree. High schools are changing team names and mascots, some pro teams are weighing shifts of their own, and the media is beginning to pay attention to the fight.

In the case of the Washington football team, it’s an uphill battle. It’s not just that the team has a tradition dating back to 1933, but that its owner, Dan Snyder, has made it crisply clear that he has no intent of even considering a name change. The National Football League doesn’t appear eager to pressure him, even though critics argue it will sit on the wrong side of history in this case if it doesn’t act to push Snyder to consider it. The Commissioner has claimed that it’s an “homage” to Native American history and culture, an argument that comes as a surprise to many Native critics who don’t see much of an homage in racist stereotyping.

If the NFL won’t change his mind, and if protestors at games across the nation won’t change his mind, maybe a new campaign by the Oneida Nation will. Its “Change the Mascot!” campaign will be rolling out in every city the Washington team visits this football season, with radio ads and other outreach to educate people about why the name is offensive, and why it needs to change.

As multiple ongoing lawsuits illustrate, the team’s name is racist, and Native Americans have mustered an impressive array of evidence to support their case, showing how the word is used as a racial slur even today in the United States and linking it with historic oppression of indigenous people. For Native people, especially Native Americans who just want to relax and enjoy some football, the name is a constant reminder of a period of immense suffering and pain in their history; one in which their lands were stolen, they were pushed into reservation environments, and they were exterminated by colonizers.

Even some fans of the team are starting to protest the name, lobbying around the name change with petitions and supportive gestures of their own. When even your fans think your name is racist and repugnant, it’s safe to say you have an image problem. So, will Dan Snyder change the name of his Washington football team?

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Photo credit: Keith Allison.

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111 comments

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4:50AM PDT on Sep 29, 2013

I really like the idea of not using the team's name! yay!

7:56AM PDT on Sep 27, 2013

Thank you for sharing. signed

5:45AM PDT on Sep 27, 2013

signed

4:40AM PDT on Sep 27, 2013

Signed that petition ages ago. Thanks for sharing.

4:11AM PDT on Sep 27, 2013

Petition definitly signed.

3:17AM PDT on Sep 27, 2013

ty

8:39PM PDT on Sep 26, 2013

I dated and lived with a native american girl for almost ten years. I spent many weekends with her family and relatives on the reservations where they lived. I went to many pow-wows where I was once given an honorary "indian" name by the tribal chief, and I even attended a couple long house funerals. And not once did I see a person with "red" skin. Not once did I hear one of the many NFL fans there complain in anger about the team name "redskins". I believe it is more a white man guilt issue than a native american issue.

2:01PM PDT on Sep 26, 2013

Heck, I also forgot to mention, another part of my communication to The NFL, about this, is that they do not get enough fans in their stadiums and they want relocate their franchises and The NFL rarely votes to keep franchises in areas where their franchises' performance, raising prices and actions have forced the fans away!! Yet, when comes to changing racist nicknames, images (like logos) and Etc. there is tradition and uproar thrown in the people they are violating faces!!

1:56PM PDT on Sep 26, 2013

I could agree more with Banning any images, language use and anything else that is harmful to any race or identity (like person sexuality and Etc.) from all sports and sports levels.

As I sent in a message to The NFL, in sports teams/programs/franchises regularly are change uniforms and Etc. to have more items to sell to their fans, yet they cannot change nicknames and Etc. and work it so fans will accept them, BLANKING BS!! Sure, it might take some time and it might upset some fans, but it is THE RIGHT AND ONLY THING TO DO!! The NFL and all other FootBall Level Teams/Programs/Franchise really could care less about traditions, unless they earn more millions!!!

7:29AM PDT on Sep 25, 2013

Looking up dictionary and Wikipedia definitions of "redskin", it says "usually offensive" and "now taboo".
"Redskin" is a translation from the French of "peau rouge", "skin red", used by early French Jesuit missionaries, explorers and traders {this is not in Wikipedia} of the aboriginal peoples they found on this continent. It was "neutral", simply the name they used. {I'm not familiar enough with the French language, to know if the term is still "neutral" and okay in French. It certainly can be used in a historical context.} Later on, during the long Indian Wars, "redskins" was used in a hostile way, for The Enemy - and you definitely see this usage in Western movies and in Western stories. After the final defeat of the Native Americans, it was used as an insult - which you also see in Western literature.
To name teams after Indian tribes, is cultural co-optation, and also offensive. Teams using the names "Rebels", "Celts", etc., generally have some relation, real or imagined, to such "warriors". If there were a team of non-Japanese calling itself "the Samurai", it might well be offensive to Japanese people. These teams are trying to "bask in reflected glory" they are NOT ENTITLED TO, having absolutely NO relation to "Samurai" - or Indian - codes of ethics, code of conduct, spirituality, etc. Such "cultural co-optation" IS offensive to the cultures being ripped off.

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