Call for Action
In the period of social unrest across the globe, there is a push for increased awareness, education, and change for respecting minority groups in every dimension, including sports. Many sports teams have been looking at their own team names and mascot to be sure it doesn’t draw offense to what is named after. One team in the National Football League, the Washington Redskins, is no exception, as it has come under fire within the past decade for the use of the word “redskin” that basically labels a Native American tribe for the color of their skin. Many people have questioned this name, as it has a negative connotation attached to it; however, the other side doesn’t want to change it, saying it honors the team’s history with Native Americans. After mounting pressure from their sponsors, and debate, the NFL team of the WA Redskins have finally launched a review into the changing of their team name due to the insensitivity it portrays towards Native Americans, in spite of a common concern over the loss of history if the name is changed.
The History Behind the Name
The use of “redskin” now is thought of as being a racial slur. Historically, the term was first used by the Native Americans themselves in order to distinguish themselves between the different tribes. However, the term took on a more negative light when others began branding that tribe by that term. It was widely used in the media; however, the media portrayals of the so–called “redskins” were not all that accurate and, in some cases, offensive. That was when the term took on more of a negative tone.
The Washington Redskins were originally the Braves; however, it was renamed, to not be confused with the baseball team, the Boston Braves, as the team was originally situated in Boston. The owner of the team then renamed it to the Redskins, to honor their old coach who had identified as Native American. This former coach had also recruited several Native American athletes to the team. He also changed the logo so it would look like a Native American. Shortly after the renaming though, the team relocated to Washington. When the team was first named, the term “redskin” was more commonly used than it is today, but it was still used as a derogatory term.
Reasons for Change
The name has been problematic for decades as respect and understanding of indigenous people has increased, although the Redskins current owner, Dan Snyder has always pushed he will never change their name. While that has been protested, with the social justice unrest that has been happening currently, the push has never been larger. FedEx, the team’s largest sponsor, will drop their sponsorship if they do not change their name, and both Amazon and Nike have stopped selling their merchandise. Fans, presidents, and Native Americans, themselves, are saying that the name is hurtful, inappropriate, and a racial slur.
Native Americans also have an issue with being used as a logo and a mascot. They don’t like being portrayed as cartoons and mascots, as that mocks something in “history” although their tribes and culture still exist today.
Concerns of a “Loss” of History
There is some resistance to the change of the team name. While critics note that calling Native Americans “redskins” to their face is offensive, supporters argue the term being used as a team name and mascot isn’t offensive, as the context of the word usage is more positive. There are also concerns over the loss of the Redskins‘ history if the name is changed, as it had gotten that name to honor the Native American heritage in the team history. Others do not see not a problem with the name, as fans, including the head coach, Ron Rivera, did not understand the racist history of the word at first, and liked the name in respect to the team’s history. However, he now understands the offensive nature of the word and is supporting the name change. While respecting the history of a team is important, it has to be done in a proper way and not by using a term that is offensive to the very history that it wants to honor.
Changing the name is not an easy concept, as with note to their history, the head coach wants it to be connected to Native Americans. However, that change is needed, and several possible names have been brought up from the community with support of the name change. While the owner and coach have not directly said they are going to change the name, they have made the decision to review with the mounting pressure. This review is an important first step.
Despite the team’s ties to the Native Americans, owner, Dan Snyder has commented that “this process allows the team to take into account not only the proud tradition and history of the franchise but also input from our alumni, the organization, sponsors, the National Football League and the local community it is proud to represent on and off the field.” In other words, the review of the team name allows for them to listen to concerns from outside, acknowledge those, and use it as a platform of change. The team is also examining the history of the community of the team (the fans) and the type of community that it wants to create. Listening, understanding, respecting, and changing are solutions to this period of social unrest across the nation and fixing those racial divides that exist. With the change of the team name, it creates a powerful message to the rest of the nation: “we listened, and we changed,” which is what needs to happen across the globe.