In recent months, there has been a widespread debate centered in Washington concerning the name of the widely known and supported football team, the Washington Redskins. The word “redskin,” originally used neutrally to describe American Indians, is now deemed “offensive” by 2013 Oxford and Merriam Webster dictionaries for being associated with negative connotations such as “dirty” and “lying”.Barack Obama and other leaders in Washington have been pressing for a change in the team’s offensive name. This May, nine members of Congress sent a letter to team owner Dan Snyder and National Football League (NFL) commissioner Roger Goodell to convince them to discontinue the use of the racial slur. Congress described the Redskins trademark as a term that promotes the stereotype of Native Americans as bloodthirsty and war oriented.
The May 2013 letter sent from Congress was ignored by Snyder, but Goodell responded to it by saying that the team name “is a unifying force that stands for strength, courage, pride, and respect.” The NFL’s message stated that the name cannot be offensive because the NFL means no offense.
However, it is hardly fair to be the judge of one’s own propagation. It is not up to the offenders to decide whether the terms used are harmful. Native Americans have responded with the firm belief that no one should be allowed to trademark negative terminology.
An April 2013 Associated Press poll showed that 79% of Americans who responded favored the name “Redskins.” Because the majority wants to keep the name, the offense to the Native Americans continues to be ignored.
Admittedly, it is unfair to expect the NFL to easily change a name that has a long-standing traditional significance to football players and fans. However, the fact that fans and administrators of the Washington Redskins refuse to acknowledge the negative connotation of such a stereotypical term reveals that many turn a blind eye to an offended minority group.
Dan Snyder, owner of the Washington Redskins, told the May 2013 edition of USA TODAY Sports, “We’ll never change the name. It’s that simple. NEVER- you can use caps.”
To the Native American community, which has spent a large amount of money in lawsuits and even created a website and radio advertisement in protest, the blatant answer provided by Snyder is distressing and infuriating.
Lisa Chen (So.) said, “Saying that the name Redskins promotes and unifies Native Americans is like saying the n-word promotes freedom and I think it’s disrespectful how people aren’t thinking about our Native American history and do not realize that ‘redskins’ is a derogatory term.”
The issue with racial slurs in well known and loved mascot names is not only present in large national organizations but also in local areas. In past years, there has been extreme controversy over Woodbridge High’s school mascot, the warrior. Woodbridge High opened in 1980 with its mascot a Native American wearing a feather headdress. In 2001, responding to lawsuits from Native Americans concerning racism, Woodbridge changed its mascot to a mere golden arrow. The large mural depicting the former Native American mascot on the outside of the school was removed and a mural depicting one long arrow has replaced it.
The Washington Redskins football team is loved and supported around the country. To the players, leaders, and fans, changing the name would be ridiculous. However, the NFL has made previous claims to stand up for diversity and inclusion, and the use of a deracinating stereotype for a trademark team name should not be deemed acceptable in modern society.
Written by Stacey Yu