Native Americans protest the Washington Redskins’ name in front of Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wisconsin, in September before an NFL game.
The season is not going quite as planned for the professional football team in our nation’s capital. Off the field as well as well as on, the NFL’s Washington franchise is taking a beating. From the owner on down, the team has stonewalled calls for it to replace the team name and mascot, the Redskins. Although the team maintains that the name is used with respect for Native Americans, that justification is under attack. The name, which was first adopted in the 1930s, is viewed by many, not just among Native communities, as a clear racial slur. As a result, protests, editorials, and lawsuits are claiming that the name is deeply offensive to Native peoples. But the Washington NFL team is hardly alone. Across the sports landscape, there are still many teams whose name or logo or mascot has a connection to Native Americans. Some are even schools that are on Indian reservations, which points to a diversity of opinion among Native Americans.
Beginning in the 1970s, many universities began getting rid of team names and mascots that were deemed offensive. Sociologists have documented the actual psychological harm that negative stereotypes inflict, pointing out that such names and mascots can do more damage than just to cause emotional offense. The American Sociological Association has stated that “the continued use of Native American nicknames, logos and mascots in sport reflect and reinforce misleading stereotypes of Native Americans in both past and contemporary times; harm Native American people in psychological, educational, and social ways; and undermine education about the lives of Native American peoples.”
Language is not only potent; it evolves. In this case, whatever nostalgic attachment some fans may have to their team’s name, the word redskin has clearly become an offense. Just as other organizations have recognized the issue and chosen to make a change, it seems only a matter of time before the highest-profile professional sports team in the nation’s capital (apologies to the Nationals, Caps, and Wizards) gets on “the right side” of linguistic history. And what better time than National American Indian Heritage Month to cease “honoring” Native culture through the use of a negative stereotype?
Image credit: © Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post via Getty Images
- Redskins, Blackskins, Brownskins, Whiteskins: Race and Team Mascots
This blog brings a sociological perspective to the issue of racial stereotypes and sports team mascots, especially as concerns the Washington R-words.
(Source: Everyday Sociology Blog, October 18, 2013)
- Redskins and Reason
This opinion piece, while taking issue with some of the arguments made by those calling for the Washington Redskins to change their name, agrees that they should—out of “simple decency.”
(Source: Washington Post, October 17, 2013)
- The Most Offensive Team Names in Sports: A Definitive Ranking
As this website notes, “Washington, D.C.’s football squad is hardly the only sports team with an offensive name and/or logo derived from Native American culture”—so here are all the rest.
(Source: The New Republic, October 9, 2013)
- How Many Native Americans Think “Redskins” Is a Slur?
This article notes the diversity of Native American opinion on the Washington pro football team name controversy, citing polling data and the use of “Redskins” by some American Indian schools.
(Source: Washington.CBSlocal.com, October 8, 2013)
- Silence and Spectacle: How the Sports Media Sanctions Racist Mascots
Check out this cutting examination, from a “blog about the intersection of race and pop culture,” of the role that sports media play in perpetuating racially offensive stereotypes.
(Source: Racialicious.com, October 23, 2013)