Washington Redskins Change Their Name – Should Other Teams Named for Native Americans Do the Same?
Should teams like the Atlanta Braves and Kansas City Chiefs also change their names?
by Causes | 7.14.20
On July 13, ten days after commencing a review of its team name, the Washington Redskins announced that they will retire the Redskins name and logo upon the review's completion.
What's the story?
- This spring's protests regarding police brutality and racial injustice brought a decades-long fight to change the Washington Redskins' name to a head. According to The Washington Post, Redskins owner Dan Snyder (who, up until now, had defiantly resisted calls to change the team's name) and newly hired coach Ron Rivera began discussing the state of the name in June, around the time that politicians, tribal leaders, and other advocates started a new push to change the team's name.
- Financial pressure ultimately forced the team's hand: on July 2, FedEx sent the Redskins' general counsel a two-page letter saying that it would remove its signage from the team's stadium after the 2020 season. In the letter, FedEx cited the risk of damage to its brand if the team's name wasn't changed. Losing FedEx's name on the stadium's signage would have cost Snyder around $45 million.
- On the morning of July 3, Washington announced that it would undergo a "thorough review" of its name. Corporate sponsors PepsiCo, Bank of America, and Bud Light released statements commending the decision.
- Ray Halbritter, Oneida Nation representative and head of the Change the Mascot campaign, praised the team's decision:
"The NFL and Dan Snyder have finally made the right call and Change the Mascot commends them for it. This is a good decision for the country -- not just Native peoples -- since it closes a painful chapter of denigration and disrespect toward Native Americans and other people of color. Future generations of Native youth will no longer be subjected to this offensive and harmful slur every Sunday during football season. We have made clear from the start that this movement was never about political correctness, but seeking to prevent unnecessary harm to our youth, since we know from social scientists the many harmful effects this mascot has had on Native Americans' self-image. Today marks the start of a new chapter for the NFL and the Washington franchise, beginning a new legacy that can be more inclusive for fans of all backgrounds."
According to ESPN reporter Adam Schefter, Washington's new logo won't use any Native American imagery. Reportedly, the plan as of now is to retain the franchise's burgundy and gold colors and include the military in the new team name.
Potential legal complications
The Redskins' quest for a new name may be stymied by trademark-squatting. According to CBS Sports writer Will Brinson, an attorney in Alexandria, Virginia, has already trademarked trademarked every single possible new Redskins name:
Are other team names on the chopping block?
Now that Washington has decided to change its team name, it's possible that the focus will shift to other sports teams with Native American allusions in their names. Potentially affected professional sports teams could include:
- Atlanta Braves, which have recently sent an email to season ticket holders saying they have no plans to adopt a new name
- Chicago Blackhawks, which say they have no intention of changing their name, as it honors a historical figure, Black Hawk, who was a prominent figure in Illinois history
- Cleveland Indians, which have indicated that a name change is likely
- Kansas City Chiefs, which have yet to issue a statement on the future of their name
In addition to these professional teams, many college and high school sports teams are also named after local Native American tribes.
In 2005, the NCAA looked into the use of Native American names, and some college teams stopped using Native American names and iconography that were deemed offensive. However, other teams - most notably the Florida State Seminoles - received approval from local tribes to continue using their existing names.
Sound off: should sports teams whose names reference Native Americans change their names?
Let us know in the comments: do you think Washington was right to change its name? Do you think professional sports organizations have an obligation to ensure that their names don't offend members of the public?
(Image Credit: Keith Allison via Wikimedia Commons)
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