Washington Redskins Need a Name Change — Even Obama Thinks So


The reluctance to change the Washington Redskins name and logo is ethnic offensiveness thinly disguised as maintaining tradition. Unsuccessful efforts to rename one of the NFL's oldest franchises have been ongoing for decades, and have more recently been tossed around amidst increased criticism and backlash. The president has even weighed in. President Obama, speaking with the Associated Press on Saturday, said that if he owned the franchise he would "think about changing" the name. His endorsement signals an opportune time for the league and more of the American public to more forcefully reconsider the "Redskins" moniker.

Continuing to prevent the change is a miniscule amount of powerful, rich white men — namely, Redskins owner Daniel Snyder and league commissioner Roger Goodell, who both appear to be avoiding the real, damaging ethnic implications by continuing to insist upon shoddy rhetoric of nostalgia and time-honored convention, as well as favorable statistics for keeping the name (from an Associated Press-GfK survey and an American Public Policy poll).

But this issue transcends polling statistics: That a derogatory nickname continues to be used by Washington, D.C.'s pro team and that a racialized mascot is plastered on either side of its helmets is the problem. There is no majority number of Americans and American Indians that should be acceptable for propagating its usage. That "Redskins" and its accompanying logo offends anybody at all is reason enough to begin a new tradition.

Back in May, Snyder told USA TODAY Sports, "We will never change the name of the team." Then on Wednesday, he wrote a letter to fans, reaffirming his stance, in which he bolded and italicized, "Our past isn't just where we came from — it's who we are." As Snyder details in his letter, his "past" included sunny memories of attending Redskins games as a child, the striking feeling of RFK stadium's shaking foundation during "Hail to the Redskins," and "the passion of the fans all around me."

Yet one 68-year-old citizen of the Cheyenne and Arapahoe Tribes who has been protesting the team's name since the 1960s, Suzan Show Harjo, reminds us there are multiple sides to "tradition." She told the New York Times that her protests were first fueled when she and her husband attended their only Redskins game nearly 40 years ago, and, "Fans sitting nearby, apparently amused that American Indians were in their midst, pawed their hair and poked them."

80 years of warm football-related nostalgia and Snyder-induced nausea is an utterly baseless argument for keeping a moniker grounded in hundreds of years of ethnic extermination.

In June, ESPN Grantland's Dave Zirin wrote an open letter to Dan Snyder, opining respectfully at first that "History tends to be unkind to those who make bold proclamations against change," and then more disparagingly, "I fear you'll find out the hard way that if your team name only exists because there happened to have been a genocide, then it might be time to think up a new name."

There is no better time to change the name than the current, and there is no better location in which to lead an upsurge than in D.C., the United States capital and home of the Redskins. On Monday, at an event held by ChangetheMascot.org, Harjo concurred, saying the name change "is king of the mountain because it's associated with the nation's capital, so what happens here affects the rest of the country."