What’s In a Name? Native American Groups Press DC’s Football Team for Change

The NFL team that calls Washington home is under fire again over its controversial name. Native American associations are joining their voices to call for change.

Momentum is once again building behind the efforts of several Native American associations to pressure the Washington Redskins to change the team’s controversial name and logo. A recent panel discussion and comments by the city’s mayor have reignited the movement in recent weeks.

At a symposium held at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian last week, a group of academics, sportswriters, and topical experts discussed the role of Native American mascots in sports. Washington’s team name continually surfaced and was characterized as a slur by numerous participants.

The team’s owner, Daniel Snyder—who didn’t respond to requests to take part in the discussion, according to The Washington Post—defends the name, saying it’s a way of honoring Native Americans.

“Honors like that we don’t need,” Robert Holden, deputy director of the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), said at the symposium, shown in the video above.

Also last week, DC Mayor Vincent Gray received praise from several Native American groups for comments he made about the football team returning to play in the city proper (the team’s current home, FedEx Field, is in suburban Maryland). The team would have to change its name before such a move would be approved, Gray said, according to a local news station.

In a statement, NCAI backed the mayor’s comments.

“This is the moment for the team, the NFL, and the community to address the misappropriation of Native identity and honor the true historic and contemporary place of Native people and tribal nations in American society,” the statement said. “NCAI would be pleased to offer our assistance in those discussions and decisions in the lead-up to a name change.”

“Our association is proudly headquartered in this town with other national Native organizations employing many talented American Indians who reside here,” said National Indian Gaming Association Chairman Ernest L. Stevens Jr. in a statement. “While we have a tremendous amount of responsibility to our 184 member gaming tribes, we would like to recognize that this growing national movement to remove race-based mascots has finally reached the nation’s capital.”

The National Indian Education Association, which has not commented on the DC controversy, has successfully advocated for bans on the use of Native stereotypes in elementary and secondary school sports. “Associations that take strong stances on particular issues of importance to their membership can foster important social change that improves the world in which we all live,” said NIEA President Dr. Heather Shotton.

Washington's Robert Griffin III (Keith Allison/Flickr)

Rob Stott

By Rob Stott

Rob Stott is a contributing editor for Associations Now. MORE

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