No U.S. professional team since 1963 has established new mascots or nicknames that use racial stereotypes. Yet the Washington pro football team, which played here last week, continues its offensive nickname and logo.
Current team owner Dan Snyder, when asked last May, told USA Today that he will “never” change the team nickname. His refusal, as well as virtually ignoring a new resolution by the District of Columbia City Council urging the team to change its name, as well as a U.S. House bill introduced that would amend the 1946 Trademark Act, banning the term and canceling all trademark registrations of the current nickname, is downright disappointing and insulting.
We condemn Mr. Snyder’s stubbornness, greediness or both along with his argument against changing a name that originated and maintained for over eight decades, since 1932, “a legacy of racism” by the team’s late founder George Preston Marshall in. A staunch segregationist, Marshall was considered “the league’s most notorious racist owner” who pushed for the league’s 13-year ban (1933-1946) on Black players and didn’t integrate the Washington club until he was forced to do so by both the federal government and the Kennedy Administration in 1962.
Two years before Marshall’s death in 1969, the team registered its nickname as a trademark. Then the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) and the Native American community in 1968 “began a campaign to eliminate negative stereotypes of Native Peoples in popular culture,” a campaign that still is alive today.
Contrary to a St. Paul mainstream newspaper columnist who vainly suggested in a column last week that the protest outside the Metrodome prior to the Minnesota-Washington football game was nothing more than “grandstanding” by activists, it was much more than that. Equally as stubborn as the team owner, mascot opponents led by the NCAI, which began passing a number of resolutions in 1993, and “an overwhelming number of national organizations” are all asking the team to simply “change the name.”
There is precedent for changing longstanding nicknames in pro sports. The NBA’s Washington Bullets changed its name to Wizards in the late 1990s, and the Golden State Warriors eliminated its former headdress logo. Two-thirds or over 2,000 “Indian” references in sports have been eliminated during the past 35 years, and 28 high schools in 17 states since 1990 have changed the same nickname that the Washington NFL team currently employs.
The NAACP in 1999 issued a resolution urging “all professional sports teams… currently using such names and images to reject the use of Native Americans as sports mascots and symbols.” As Minnesota’s oldest Black newspaper, the MSR joins many other media outlets around the country who this year announced they would stop using the Washington nickname in news reports.
Using the “R” word is fundamentally no different than the “N” word — both are racially demeaning and inappropriate. Any nickname or logo that clearly offends any ethnic group should never be seen on helmets, jerseys, bats, balls, cheerleader uniforms and the like.
According to the Pew Research Center, at least 76 news outlets have made a decision to change how they use the Washington nickname — 24 no longer use or limit using the Washington nickname, and 12 have policies now in place that restrict or ban its use. However, based on preview stories, columns and post-game coverage last week, both Twin Cities major newspapers, the Star Tribune and the St. Paul Pioneer Press, have yet to adopt a similar stance.
Unfortunately, to bolster his argument, Snyder points to an April 2013 Associated Press-GK Roper poll that reported 79 percent of the mostly White respondents say the team should not change its name and a 2004 Annenberg poll that claims over 90 percent of Native Americans “did not take issue” with the nickname.
Instead, Snyder should have asked those who marched from the American Indian Center on Franklin Avenue to the Dome prior to last week’s game how they felt. He should’ve asked the panelists last Tuesday at a University of Minnesota symposium, which included U.S. Congresswoman Betty McCollum, who said, “The word ‘redskins’ is a racial slur. It is offensive and demeaning to Native Americans and all Americans who strive to extinguish racism, prejudice and injustice.
“It is time for Mr. Snyder and the NFL to stop insulting Indian families, children and elders and take the proper and very simple stop to end this hurtful controversy — change the mascot!” said McCollum.
Based on last week’s protest, the Washington football nickname issue isn’t going away any time soon, even if Snyder remains ostrich-like on the subject. But it easily could go away if the owner does the right thing and changes the name.