The Washington Redskins, after more than 80 years of controversy, have decided to shed their name. Contemporary American culture now generally identifies the term “Redskins” as derogatory and a slur.
The decision to finally change the name came in light of the Black Lives Matter movement taking place across America. As a result of George Floyd’s wrongful death, many Americans have awakened to the injustices it provides for it’s BIPOC community.
Sponsors of the Redskins, such as FedEx, began to support a name change. On July 13th, 2020 an official announcement was made that the team would retire the Redskins logo and name.
A Brief History:
In 1972, a delegation of Native American leaders sat down with President Edward Bennett Williams in an attempt to urge him to change the name. The result ended with replacing “Scalp ‘um” with “Beat ‘em” in the team’s fight song and taking away the cheerleaders’ black braided wigs.
Two decades later, Suzan Harjo and six other Native American’s filed a petition to the Patent and Trademark Office asking for the trademark to be removed due to insensitive rhetoric on behalf of the indigenous peoples of America.
During the 90’s John Kent Cooke Jr., a Redskins executive with relations to the owner, worked with an advertising company on a McDonald’s campaign to water down its portrayal of Native Americans.
“The Washington Redskins are very sensitive to our image, particularly in this day and age of political correctness,” Cooke Jr. said in a letter. “No War Chants, Yelling, Derogatory Indian Language, No Insulting Language or Humor.”
November of 2009 brought news from the Supreme Court, declining the Harjo petition.
Current team owner, Daniel Snyder, told USA Today in 2013, “We’ll never change the name. It’s that simple. NEVER – you can use caps.”
In a response to the comment, President Barack Obama gave his two cents to the Associated Press.
“If I were the owner of the team and I knew that there was a name of my team…that was offending a sizable group of people, I’d think about changing it.”
In June of 2014 The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board ordered the Redskins’ federal trademark registrations cancelled, a victory for many Native American activists.
Most recently, D.C. Deputy Mayor John Falcicchio told the Washington Post that “there is no viable path” for the team to come back to the District unless the name changes.
PepsiCo, Bank of America, and Nike began to threaten pulling their sponsorship, with Nike removing all Redskins paraphernalia from their website.
For the time being the team will go by The Washington Football team and maintain donning burgundy and gold. The team is expected to use the name for the 2020 season. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and league officials noted the process will result in a new name and mascot for the team.
Thoughts from a Navajo and Apache journalist:
One of my earliest memories is asking my mother and grandmother if our families arrived on the Mayflower. Met with uproar, my family corrected me that our ancestors were here first and not one of them arrived from Europe.
To see Daniel Synder’s insistence against the name change is heartbreaking. In my four years of higher education, I have dedicated myself to learning about Native American culture and representation in the media. One would have to be woefully blind to not see that this group is heavily marginalized. Many little indigenous girls and boys grow up having to search for representation to see stories that reflect their personal experiences.
Changing the name is a small victory for our people, but it is only one small step in the right direction. Native Americans see very little of themselves in pop culture, classrooms and history. The legacy of indigenous Americans has been thoroughly whitewashed, to say the least. “Redskins” prolongs the rhetoric of white washing.
While a step in the right direction, the change offers the question: Why did it take so long to rename a team from a derogatory term?
Opposition is based on the idea that we as Native Americans should be proud to have a team named after us. In 2014, a touching video from the National Congress of American Indians ended with a powerful statement. The narrator alludes to a photo of a Redskins helmet and photo: “There is one thing we are not.” Native Americans are not your costumes to dress up in and it is not a history to erase because it is unpleasant.
Many prominent late night figures such as Trevor Noah and John Oliver have commented on the issue. There is even a South Park bit about the name change.
“It almost feels like dismantling structural racism is so difficult, that instead America is just crossing off the easier items on it’s racism to do list” said Noah last week on The Daily Show.
The most disparaging feeling is to know that Snyder didn’t change the name because he felt bad for my people. He changed it because FedEx and other sponsors threatened to stop funding his precious team.
Renaming the Redskins was an easy task on America’s racism to-do list. While I’m happy about the change, it’s still amazing to me that it took so long. The idea that an NFL team has gone by a derogatory term since the 1930’s pains me, but on deeper reflection of the systemic racism seeded in our country, sadly I can’t be surprised.
While ideas like renaming the Redskins at one time seemed radical, it is important to remember that so did ending slavery. Many people in the country are calling for defunding the police and refunding education. With the opportunity to fund proper education about Native American history, there is a chance of a future where no one will be ignorant to why a football team with a derogatory slur as the name is hurtful and wrong.