As I’ve mentioned in some recent posts, I’m currently engaged in a research project where I’m studying Native American culture, racism, and sports, with particular focus on the debate over the Washington Redskins name change. I’ve written a few posts exploring this topic, most recently looking into the culture of sports.
Today I plan to review some of the most recent news articles I’ve found on the subject, in an attempt to summarize the various views. I’ve searched a variety of news sources and compiled a list of articles arguing various sides of the debate. I’ll be posting some general summaries here, taking a neutral stance since the purpose of this post is to review what people are saying, rather than to express my own opinion. This review will then help as background for my future posts, similar to an academic literature review.
In favor of changing the name:
Most of the articles I’ve found in favor of changing the name have been very direct in their views. These articles mostly show a firm stance with no room for compromise. In an article on Huffington Post, Dan Treadway cites a statistic that 79% of Americans are against changing the name and support the Redskins staying as they are. He refers to those 79% as “stubbornly ignorant.” He argues that the name Redskins is unarguably racist:
“I mean, literally — if you look up the word Redskin in the dictionary, it’s defined simply as, “Used as a disparaging term for a Native American.” This isn’t even really debatable, the name is offensive not because of any sort of allusion or interpretation — it’s defined as a racial slur.”
He continues by saying that any attempt to keep the name is “completely absurd.”
Treadway then cites cases of other sports teams that have changed their names, such as the Arkansas State team changing “from the Indians to the Red Wolves.”
Similar views are expressed by Amanda Blackhorse, Native American issues advocate, who wrote an article where she refers to the team as the R*dsk*ns in order to avoid citing the racial slur directly. She refers to the term as “disparaging, racist, and hateful.” Both Blackhorse and Treadway refer to the fact that the name was first adopted in the 1930s, a time when racism was even more prolific than it is today. Both writers also state that defenders of the team name argue that it is a longstanding tradition. Blackhorse counters that argument by saying, “Just because something has gone on for a long time does not mean that the activity is a legitimate tradition. Not all traditions have carried on and many are harmful and repressive.”
Blackhorse also discusses her views as a member of the Navajo Nation. She cites an example of a time she attended a game in Kansas City, where Washington played the Kansas City Chiefs, and she “saw fans ‘playing Indian,’ wearing outrageous and pathetic costumes that stereotyped traditional Native American regalia.” She explained how the various posters and decorations around the stadium showed stereotypes of Native American culture. She referred to these as an “ugly display of hostility and disdain toward [her] people” that made her feel unsafe.
However, Blackhorse also spoke about the various types of support for the name change, citing mayor of Washington, D.C., Vincent Gray, among the political figures who has spoken out about the name change. She also mentioned that “leading columnists for The Washington Post, including Courtland Milloy, Mike Wise, Sally Jenkins and Robert McCartney, have written powerful articles calling for the team to change its name.” In addition to such articles, multiple major news publications have implemented policies refusing to use the Redskins’ name in their articles (instead referring to the team only as “Washington”). I found multiple articles stating that the Washington team name is no longer being printed in the San Francisco Chronicle, Slate, and Merrill College’s Capital News, or used by individual columnists such as Tim Graham, sports writer for the Buffalo News, and Philadelphia Daily News sports columnist John Smallwood.
Further political support for the name change was cited by Bloomberg Businessweek. The article states that Democratic Senator Maria Cantwell of Washington and Republican Representative Tom Cole of Oklahoma together sent a letter to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. In the letter, Cantwell and Goodell stated that, “The National Football League can no longer ignore this and perpetuate the use of this name as anything but what it is: a racial slur.”
Several articles also refer to other sports teams who have faced similar issues and made changes to their teams. An article on CNN.com states that “Two MLB clubs, the Atlanta Braves and Cleveland Indians, changed their logos to become less offensive to Native Americans.” They also cited college sports teams who have faced controversies, saying that “15 teams have changed their mascot to be more sensitive to Native Americans.” In addition to the teams that have changed their names or mascots, the CNN article says that there are some teams who haven’t had to change. Specifically, “The Florida State Seminoles, Central Michigan Chippewas, Utah Utes and Mississippi College Choctaws have all been granted waivers to keep their nicknames after the respective tribes gave their support to the schools.”
Against the name change:
In searching for articles speaking against the name change, the most prominent figure I found was Dan Snyder, the Washington team owner. As reported by CNN.com, Snyder wrote a letter defending the team name:
“Our franchise has a great history, tradition and legacy representing our proud alumni and literally tens of millions of loyal fans worldwide. We are proud of our team and the passion of our loyal fans. Our fans sing ‘Hail to the Redskins’ in celebration at every Redskins game. They speak proudly of ‘Redskins Nation’ in honor of a sports team they love.”
In addition to Snyder’s comments in support of his team name, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has spoken on the issue. As reported by Sports Illustrated, Goodell said that the team name “honors Native Americans” and that 9 out of 10 fans support the team keeping their name. He also said that “the name is a unifying force that stands for strength, courage, pride and respect.”
Some articles also take the stance that the name change is not a key topic. One article quoted a team statement saying, “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?” Another article by Jason S. Parini of the Bleacher Report said that the team name should not be changed. Parini cited the Oklahoma Redskin Theatre as as example of another long-standing business bearing the same name, and also said that the name “‘Oklahoma’ comes from the Choctaw for ‘red people.'” He also spoke of an investigation by Senator Cantwell into the Redskins’ tax-exempt status, and called the investigation “just another money-making scheme by the U.S. government.”
Parini also argued against the point that the Redskins name is a racial slur, stating that “the Redskins also have presented a 2004 survey that found that over 90 percent of Native Americans were not offended by the name.” He expressed an opinion that the majority should not be outweighed by the demands of a few, saying “the hurt feelings of a small amount of individuals should not take priority over a large majority who see it otherwise.”
Other articles on public opinion cited statistics by a Washington Post poll, which found that 61% of Washington D.C. residents support the Redskins’ name, and 66% further say that the team should keep its name.
In addition, an article by Rick Reilly on EPSN.com argued that it is “White America” that is offended by the name, and he cited a number of examples of Native Americans who are not offended. Reilly quoted Bob Burns, his father-in-law and a bundle holder in the Blackfeet tribe, who said, “The name just doesn’t bother me much. It’s an issue that shouldn’t be an issue, not with all the problems we’ve got in this country.”
He also quoted Brett Hayes, a Choctaw man who is an English Teacher at Kingston High School in Oklahoma. Kingston is a school that is 57.7 percent Native American, and their team is also called the Redskins. Hayes was quoted as saying, “It’s a name that honors the people. The word ‘Oklahoma’ itself is Choctaw for ‘red people.’ The students here don’t want it changed. To them, it seems like it’s just people who have no connection with the Native American culture, people out there trying to draw attention to themselves.” Reilly also cited several other predominantly Native American high schools that have teams named the Redskins, including Wellpinit High School in Washington (91.2 percent Native American) and Red Mesa High School in Arizona (99.3 percent Native American).
In reviewing all of these articles (including several others I didn’t cite here simply because they repeated the same points), it seems clear that there is a lot of divide on this issue. That divide doesn’t seem to be limited purely to people of one race or another. Even among Native Americans themselves, I found articles citing individuals both for and against the name change. The statistics vary a bit from one article to another (with one poll stating 61% of respondents supported the Redskins’ name, another saying 79% supported the name, and another saying 90% supported the name). People on both sides of the debate argue from the perspective of people defending their culture, honor, and traditions. They simply take drastically different views on how those traditions affect them.