WASHINGTON (AFP) – Native Americans are protesting the nickname of the NFL’s Washington Redskins and while there are signs the league is listening, the team’s owner has vowed never to make a change.
One Native American group, the Oneida Nation, had protesters at Sunday’s Redskins game in Green Bay and bought radio advertising time to promote their stance against a nickname they consider racist.
“The word ‘Redskins’ is deeply hurtful to Native Americans,” the commercial said. “It is what our people were called as our lands were taken. It is the insult Native American parents heard as their children were taken, and, sadly, it is the racial slur the NFL continues to use to describe the team that represents our nation’s capital.
“It is simply wrong to use the offensive term ‘Redskins’ to sell anything, much less an NFL team.”
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, who in June defended the Redskins name in a letter to U.S. lawmakers, told Washington radio station WJFK last week that the league needs to listen to the growing chorus of objections.
“We need to do everything that’s necessary to make sure that we’re representing the franchise in a positive way,” Goodell said. “If we are offending one person, we need to be listening and making sure that we’re doing the right things to try to address that.”
It’s a far cry from the defending of the nickname Goodell made in a June 5 letter to 10 members of the U.S. Congress, who urged him to reject the name.
Goodell’s letter described the Redskins nickname as “a unifying force that stands for strength, courage, pride and respect” and “from its origin represented a positive meaning distinct from any disparagement that could be viewed in some other context.
“Neither in intent nor use was the name ever meant to denigrate Native Americans or offend any group.”
Goodell’s softened stance toward change could force the hand of club owner Dan Snyder, whose most recent public comment on the matter came last May to USA Today.
“We will never change the name. It’s that simple. Never,” Snyder insisted.
But around the United States, some publications have chosen not to use nicknames in describing Washington’s NFL team as well as Major League Baseball’s Cleveland Indians and Atlanta Braves, who each have long-term Native American mascots and monikers as well.
Sports columnists Peter King of Sports Illustrated and Christine Brennan of USA Today say they will no longer use the word “Redskins” in their descriptions of the team.
Many U.S. college nicknames that used Native American-based names have been changed in the past two decades over similar issues.
The Redskins heritage dates to the team’s 1932 birth in Boston, where they were first nicknamed Braves because they played in the home ballpark of baseball’s then-Boston Braves. When they relocated in 1933 to Fenway Park, home of the rival Red Sox, the name was changed to Redskins and it was retained when the club moved to the U.S. capital in 1937.
Six months after the move, a volunteer marching band was formed and the Redskins Band’s trademark song was created — “Hail to the Redskins”, with such lyrics as “Braves on the warpath, fight for old D.C.” still sung today but references to “scalp ’em” and “we want heap more” having been removed more than 30 years ago.
U.S. House of Representatives delegate Eni Faleomavaega of American Samoa introduced a bill in May that would strip the team of the trademark rights to the name “Redskins” in the wake of a petition by a group a Native Americans who claim the term is offensive.
“It is time for the NFL to stop making excuses for itself and fully embrace its so-called commitment to diversity,” he said.
U.S. Representative Betty McCollum, co-chair of the Congressional Native American Caucus, declared Goodell’s defense of the nickname “twisted logic” and “a statement of absurdity” when it was issued three months ago.
Photo Credit: AFP/Patrick McDermott