With three Superbowl titles to its name, the Washington Redskins are one of the most historic and successful teams in the NFL. But in recent years the team has faced increasing pressure to change its franchise name. Redskins is a racial slur towards Native American Indians and many feel that one of the most prolific sports teams in the US shouldn’t have a name with racist connotations. Many have petitioned Redskins owner, Dan Snyder, to change the name and senators have urged the NFL to force a change upon the franchise. But there are solid, historical reasons behind why Snyder is adamant to keep the name.
In 1932 Boston was awarded an NFL franchise after the disenfranchisement of the Cleveland Indians. The team was based at Braves Field, home of the baseball team Boston Braves. This newly created football franchise initially adopted the same name as its landlords — the Boston Braves football team was born. The next year the team moved across the city to Fenway Park, the famous and historical stadium of the Boston Red Sox, wherein the franchise name was changed to the Boston Redskins. At the time the team had many Native Indian players and famed coach William “Lone Star” Dietz claimed to be of Sioux ancestry (although his true heritage is widely debated). The name Redskins was tributary to the Native Indian connections the team had while ceasing confusion between itself and the baseball team of the same name. 1937 saw the Boston Redskins relocate to Washington, D.C. Although Dietz was no longer coach, the Redskins name remained. To this day the team remain the Washington Redskins, in apparent homage to its early connections to Native American Indians.
Since the club’s founding, however, Western culture has shifted at a phenomenal rate. The Redskins name has come under scrutiny for its political correctness or apparent disregard of it. In 1988, after Washington Redskins won Superbowl XXII, national protests erupted. Many further protests have occurred since then and the last few seasons have seen picketing outside Redskins games. Many Native American tribal councils have issued statements condemning the team’s name.
Addressing the issue at its 2013 annual conference, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights (LCCHR) recognised that a business, as indeed the Washington Redskins is, has the right to use whatever name it chooses. It also said, however, that a business should not be complicit in using a derogatory and pejorative name. It even went so far as to call upon the government to refrain from preferential treatment or support of the franchise for as long as its name was retained. Martin O’Malley, former governor of Maryland, said in 2014 that he thinks “it probably is time for the Redskins to change their name.” A letter signed by 50 senators urged the NFL to increase pressure upon the Redskins to change their name.
Other politicians, however, have taken the opposite stance. Florida’s senator, Marco Rubio, has said that Dan Snyder “should in no way be forced” to change the name of the team. In 2016, Washington Post conducted a poll amongst 504 Native Americans. Only 9% of those interviewed were offended by the name Washington Redskins. The club’s owner welcomed the result by saying “The Washington Redskins team, our fans and community have always believed our name represents honour, respect, and pride. Today’s Washington Post polling shows Native Americans agree. We are gratified by this overwhelming support from the Native American community and the team will proudly carry the Redskins name.” Josh Norman is one of the best cornerbacks in football and is part-Native American. In 2016, just after he signed for the Washington Redskins, he said “Redskins is not offensive to me…It’s kind of a funny thing, though. A redskin playing for the Redskins” to ESPN’s Kevin Van Valkenburg.
The Washington Redskins believe our name represents honour, respect, and pride. We are gratified by support from the Native American community and the team will proudly carry the Redskins name.
Dan Snyder, 2016
Arguments surrounding this issue are well-founded on both sides. One can empathise with avid supporters of the name as well as avid protesters against it. Washington Redskins are entitled to keep their name, and we must not be offended by that right. Claims of racism and bigotry don’t appear to be supported by polls and the opinions of Native American Indians. As a sports fan myself I understand the desire to remain true to your roots. But there are many ways on can do this! And so, to Dan Snyder, I say this: maybe in a few years the Washington Warriors are in the NFL.