Rebrand the Washington Redskins

November 24, 2019

C Watts/Flickr

Last month, hundreds of activists protested at the Washington Redskins game in Minnesota. Many of the protesters, including Minnesota’s Lieutenant Governor Peggy Flanagan, were Native American. “It is completely outrageous to me and so many others that the Washington football team name is a racial slur,” she said. This editorial board believes the Washington team should be renamed and rebranded.

The name and symbolism associated with the Washington team further false tropes regarding Native Americans. The term “Redskin” itself, and its use to describe a sports team, brands Native Americans in a pejorative, dehumanizing fashion. Ray Halbritter, Representative of the Oneida Indian Nation of New York, called the name “a dictionary-defined slur that is clearly detrimental to the welfare of the NFL’s image.” Moreover, the team’s imagery portrays Native Americans as one unitary stereotype, ignoring the diversity of the community and creating a caricature of what it means to be Native American.

The Washington football franchise has a troubling history of racism. After moving the team to D.C. in 1937, team owner George Preston Marshall staunchly opposed hiring African-American athletes on the team. This policy lasted until 1962, when Washington became the last team in the NFL to integrate. Marshall only reversed his position when Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall issued an order requiring him to dissolve the anti-integration policy under threat of eviction from the new, federally owned R.F.K. Stadium.

In 1933, before moving to the city, Marshall changed the team name from its original “Braves” to “Redskins,” supposedly in honor of the hiring of head coach William Henry “Lone Star” Dietz. Dietz’s heritage has been subject to much questioning, as he was accused of falsely presenting himself as Native American, and the question was never fully resolved in court. Marshall’s dubious reasoning is hardly worth its effects—in 2005, the American Psychological Association called for the retirement of the use of Native Americans as mascots and their images as logos due to the detrimental psychological effects the practice can have on the perception of Native people.

For many years now, high school, college, and professional sports teams across the country have slowly been changing their names and associated imagery to stop using Native American stereotypes and symbols, and it’s time for the D.C. team to follow suit. California banned the use of the term “Redskin” as a public school team name in 2015. In 2018, Major League Baseball’s Cleveland Indians stopped using the “Chief Wahoo” logo. Earlier this year, Maine passed a law banning the use of Native Americans and their traditions in the names, images, and logos of public schools. These changes in titles and images are crucial steps in reforming public perception of Native Americans as a monolith or as mythical characters and opens up space to view them as individuals and equal members of our society.

Dan Snyder, the current owner of the Washington franchise, told USA TODAY in 2013, “We will never change the name of the team.” His uncompromising stance on the subject reflects an unwillingness to listen to the protests of Native groups all over the country who have long protested the franchise’s name and symbolism.

In 2014, 50 U.S. senators sent an open letter to the NFL requesting that it endorse the name to be changed, and the Washington Post editorial board decided to stop using the name “Redskins.” With so many advocating for the change, Snyder’s resistance is regrettable and echoes Marshall’s racist history. It is not unheard of for professional sports teams to rebrand themselves on the basis of social issues, either. The National Basketball Association’s Washington Wizards changed their name from the Bullets in 1997 to avoid an association with gun violence.

Today, R.F.K. Stadium is set to be razed by 2021. Standing outside the stadium is a memorial to Marshall. In 2017, Boston Red Sox owner John Henry supported renaming the street outside Fenway Park that paid tribute to a racist predecessor of his. Given Marshall’s racist legacy, the Washington team’s ownership should likewise encourage that the Marshall memorial be removed along with the stadium, instead of reiterating that they are not affiliated with the land it resides on. As they do so, in recognition of the problematic history which includes their team name and symbols, they should rebrand the team so that it no longer portrays a diverse group of people in a homogeneous and damaging manner. For a professional sports team to exist in D.C. today with an overtly racist name and symbolism is unacceptable.

Editorial Board
The Editorial Board is the official opinion of the Georgetown Voice. Its current composition can be found on the masthead. The Board strives to publish critical analyses of events at both Georgetown and in the wider D.C. community. We welcome everyone from all backgrounds and experience levels to join us!

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Patrick Holder

Lt. Governor Flanders is a great leader of her people. She is so concerned about Native Americans, she takes the time to be interviewed about a Professional Football team’s name. A truly “important issue”. A mascot name, debate and controversy that has reached the highest courts in our great Country, voted upon and decided, countless polls revealing little or no real issue amongst the majority of those polled time and time again. Voted upon and majority decided upon time and time again. A Country in a state (Minnesota) in which she has been elected to be a leader, and, as a leader is to be expected to respect and support decisions by our courts of Law. Rather than truly caring about the poverty of Native American citizens in her own State, Lt Gov Flanders, it appears, would rather focus on something as insignificant as a mascot name for a sports team that has already been reviewed by The Supreme Court. It would be much more impactful for Lt. Governor Flanders to actually do her job and help change the real problems of her fellow Native American Minnesotans:

31.4 percent of American Indians in Minnesota are below the federal poverty level, compared to 8.2 percent of Whites. 34 percent of American Indian children live in poverty.
The median income for American Indian families (regardless of family size) in Minnesota is $36,900, compared to $67,000 for White families.
22 percent of Dakota and 18 percent of Ojibwe did not have a high school diploma or GED, compared to 3 percent of Whites.
10.6 percent of American Indians in Minnesota lacked health insurance in 2017, compared to 4.6 percent of non-Hispanic Whites. Lack of health insurance may result in less preventive care and health education.
The teen birth rate for American Indians in Minnesota is 61 per 1,000 births, compared to 11 for Whites. Teen birth rate is a key indicator for future poverty, low educational achievement, and poor health.
American Indians make up 8 percent of homeless adults in Minnesota, but only 1 percent of the population.
American Indian children in Minnesota are five times more likely to be reported as victims of abuse than White children, and 10 times more likely to end up in foster care.

These facts clearly show just how much Lt Governor Flanders “truly cares” about Native Americans. She apparently feels that changing a logo of a sports team has much more priority. These poverty stats have gone on for years in her own State. What a great leader Lt Governor Flanders is: She cares more about a logo of a football team than actually helping people. One might ask her about her own compassion for other human being before she cries about “racism”, which is in and of itself the most overused term in our society today at large. If she allows these statistics to happen to her own people in her own State of Minnesota, imagine how little she cares about anyone of other races, genders (or nons), religious beliefs, etc.