Redskins must change racist team name

Last month, the Oneida Indian Nation launched a “Change the Mascot” campaign aimed to rename the Washington, D.C.-based football team, the Washington Redskins. Though it might appear to be of little consequence, the debate over a sports team’s name is not a trivial matter. The routine use of racial slurs, such as “redskin,” is inappropriate and must be taken seriously. As Ray Halbritter, an Oneida Nation representative, told ABC News, “Sports and politics have a really important intersection. Symbolism really matters.”

Though other sports teams such as the Cleveland Indians, have discriminatory names, the Washington Redskins is the worst offender. Not only is “redskin” a racial slur toward Native Americans, but the term can also refer to the practice of scalping Native Americans in battle. According to David Grosso, a Washington, D.C. councilmember, the term “redskin” carries the same weight as the n-word. Aside from its vulgar nature, this term also carries colonialist and imperialist tones. As an alternative, Grosso proposed changing the teams’ name to the Redtails, a nod to the region’s population of redtail hawks.

The debate over the Washington Redskins is a pressing issue, which has even elicited a statement from President Barack Obama.

In an interview with the Associated Press, Obama said, “I don’t know whether our attachment to a particular name should override the real, legitimate concerns that people have about these things.” He does not take a decisive enough stance on the issue.

This wavering stance opened up a loophole for the Redskins’ team lawyer, Lanny Davis, to defend the name on the basis of “legacy and tradition.” Yet, this justification should not be a legitimate factor in determining whether to change the team’s name. Racial slurs cannot become normalized in society and media; naming a team after an offensive word does not make it any less harmful. Furthermore, Halbritter noted that this “legacy and tradition” unfairly portrays the Native American as a “historic relic or mascot.”  In a statement to CNN, he added, “No matter what the history of something is, if it’s offending people, then it’s time to change it.”

Kevin Gover, head of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian, pinpoints the problematic nature of the Native American-derived sports mascots: “A good many Americans don’t know any Indians … The petty stereotype has become expected.” In USA Today, Gover adds that Native American derived-team names are especially offensive because they incorrectly portray Native Americans as outsiders instead of the original settlers. He takes issue with the stereotypical, 19th century depiction of Native Americans and suggests changing the name to the Washington Americans and modernizing the mascot.

Yet this approach fails to address the issue of belittling a race of people into a sports team mascot. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, a mascot is “a person, animal or object adopted by a group as a symbolic figure especially to bring them luck.” Even though the dictionary definition concedes that a mascot can be a person, there are few other races represented in sports teams’ mascots. Instead, the vast majority of mascots are animals, such as the Miami Dolphins or the Arizona Cardinals. The mascot’s emphasis on the negative characteristics of Native Americans, also, is equally troubling.

In addition, the exaggerated cartoons and fan rituals that accompany the mascots add further insult. For example, the Washington Redskins’ Chief Zee disrespects Native American culture by trailing eagle feathers on the ground and the Atlanta Braves’ “tomahawk chop” trivializes and brutalizes the Native American culture.

Though NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell seemed open to discussing a name change, the Redskins’ owner, Daniel Snyder, takes an inconsiderate approach to the matter. In an interview with ABC News, Snyder remarked, “We’ll never change the name. It’s that simple. NEVER — you can use caps.” According to ABC News, 80 percent of area residents would not care if the team changed its name. With this statistic in mind, Snyder has everything to gain by revoking the offensive name and logo.

Racial generalizations, such as the term “redskin,” desensitize people and make them erroneously believe that this type of subtle discrimination is an acceptable social norm. In order to promote respect and dignity for all Americans, Snyder should rename the team.


Veronica An is a sophomore majoring in narrative studies.

 Follow us on Twitter @dailytrojan 

10 replies
  1. frankelee
    frankelee says:

    It’s unfortunate that even on the liberal side of thought, we still have a fringe who simply don’t get it. They don’t have life prioritized. They don’t understand any bigger picture. They don’t stop and consider, they just react. If you don’t like the name, that’s fine, but stop, take a deep breath, and realize you need to stop trying to enforce what you feel on others. That’s going to be hard at first, you’re going to believe that you have a moral obligation to enforce your feelings on the world, that lives are at stake, and the future of mankind’s ethics are in the balance. But none of that is factually accurate. There are important problems in the world that need fixed, a football team’s name, apparently created with no malice intended, is not one of those problems.

    And there’s something else, if you are truly are seeing the light, if you really see a better way, just make your case. In any situation, not just this. Try to convince someone, just yelling “that’s racist” and “you’re evil” isn’t making a case. Use facts, use real people, show how it affects the world in tangible terms, don’t just use codewords that refer to metaphysical concepts and skip the reality. If there’s compelling evidence for your argument to be found in the real world, people will care, if you haven’t already turned them off by being shrill. There’s a reason why 90% of the public is fine with the name, and if you’re thinking they just need “to be educated,” ask yourself what they need to be educated about. Because most of the time when people use that term, it means they need to be educated that you disagree with them so they must be wrong.

  2. Benjamin Roberts
    Benjamin Roberts says:

    This debate is truly ridiculous, and this article has done nothing but affirm my opinion that many Americans have no understanding of the term “racist” in the first place. There is a constant misunderstanding of the difference between “racist” and “racial”. Many things have a racial componenet, but are in no way racist.

    Take for example, the illegal immigration debate. There is NOTHING racist about wanting strinct enforcement of our nation’s immigration policies. Sure, there is a “racial” component in that hispanics for whatever reasons account for the majority of those who are here illegally, but it is ignorant and incomprehensible to suggest that someone is therefore “racist” because they want illegal immigration stopped. (It’s ironic of course that another “racial” component to immigration is that our very fair and generous system of immigration actually leads to more hispanics being naturalized as new citizens than any other race group… yet, hispanics are the most vocal in the inane suggestion that our system of immigration is not fair or open. Wow!)

    It is also disturbing to read that this author believes the word “Indian” (as in “Cleveland Indians”) is “discriminatory” or that the term “Redskin” is akin to the “N Word”. This determination is shocking, and indicative of frightening lack of character and judgment. We have become a society so obsessed with protecting each other’s feelings that we no longer employ sound reasoning or logic in discussing these issues. Sports teams that use Native American names or imagery are in fact recognizing the early influence of American Indians around the country, and, understandably, make reference to their bravery or warrior nature while enjoying the competitive spirit of the game.

    This debate is utter nonsense, and must be shut down. Sports teams must not be bullied into changing their names or mascots, particularly not with this sort of disingenuous and ignorant rhetoric.

  3. Mari
    Mari says:

    Why not change the name? Even if the issue affects 9% of people, listening to them will show that the team administration is respectful and flexible rather than stubborn and full of greed. It would be a small step towards reconciliation of different ideologies, a model for our whole political system.

  4. Ras
    Ras says:

    The author of this article also claims “Cleveland Indians” is a “discriminatory name”.
    Can someone please explain to me how this name is discriminatory? We have really cried wolf so many times when it comes to the issue of race that we now have made real racism a watered issue. Now ppl just internally roll their eyes whenever someone cries being a victim of racism because we have chosen to make football team names racist as well. Good job liberals! you have worn out an important subject by continuing to find victims out of every little rules of political-correctness.

  5. jorge
    jorge says:

    I think you forgot to mention this poll showing only 9% of Native Americans even find it offensive

    This is only a big deal because the media continues to blow this stuff up out of proportion. They are not using the name in a derogatory way, it really should be a non issue. Your stat that “80 percent of area residents would not care if the team changed its name” could mean several different things, including that 80% of area residents are simply indifferent to the matter, not necessarily that 80% want the name changed as you imply. Furthermore, the vast majority of mascots are not animals as you state– in the NFL alone less than 50% of teams have animals for mascots.

    What about the Fighting Irish, Buccaneers, or Vikings? These mascots negatively stereotype groups of people, but I don’t see anyone up in arms about them. Honestly, if people can’t get past the fact that it is only a sports team and no offense is intended to anyone, then change the logos and mascot, but keep the name. The Redskins will be happy because they’re keeping their name, and the people offended will be happy because it is merely a name, with no mascot or logo invoking Native American culture or ideas attached to it.

  6. The R-word vs the N-word
    The R-word vs the N-word says:

    “the term “redskin” carries the same weight as the n-word” LOL, and yet you throw around the r-word so freely.

  7. Ras
    Ras says:

    Why do we not have this same outrage over the Minn Vikings? There must be some Scandinavians that are repulsed to the bone over the use of a term that associates a football team to their ancestry. Is the lack of outrage over Vikings because that deals with lily white people and we have to admit there is often hypocrisy whenever we talk about race issues in modern times? BTW – if we carry the logic why some find “Redskins” offensive – then we are going to need to stop using that word not just for football teams but for any reason. We will start to whittle our lexicon down for fear of offense until we only have “plain vanilla” to communicate with each other. Let’s stop the retarded word policing and focus on real problems – not this first world nonsense.

  8. roger
    roger says:

    “The debate over the Washington Redskins is a pressing issue” is THE funniest thing I’ve read in a newspaper in years. Thanks. RJ USC ’88

Comments are closed.