NFL's Washington Redskins feeling the heat over team nickname

Opposition rises to a name many consider a racist slur to Native Americans, but team owner stays defiant, saying it will never be changed

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 18 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 18 September, 2013, 3:12am

Protests, political pressure, media snubs and legal actions have turned up the heat on Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder over opposition to the NFL team's nickname, considered by critics to be a racist slur.

About 24 members of American Indian tribes stood in the rain outside Wisconsin's Lambeau Field before Sunday's game between the Green Bay Packers and the Redskins, demanding a change of the visitor's nickname.

US Congress members have written National Football League (NFL) commissioner Roger Goodell urging a name change while prominent columnists and media outlets have also taken a stand against using the nickname.

Snyder has said he had no intentions of changing the name of a team which has played as the Washington Redskins since 1937.

"We'll never change the name. It's that simple," Snyder recently told USA Today. "Never. You can use all caps."

Rising voices against the nickname have caught the ear of Goodell, who grew up in Washington cheering the Redskins. "I know the team name is part of their history and tradition. That is something that is important to the Redskins fans," Goodell said last week. "I think what we have to do is listen.

"If one person is offended, then we have to listen. Ultimately it is Dan's decision, but it is something I want all of us to go out and make sure we are listening to our fans, listening to people that have a different view," added Goodell, who earlier this year voiced support for the Redskins name.

Many US professional sports teams still carry Indian names, logos or mascots including the NFL's Kansas City Chiefs, Major League Baseball's Cleveland Indians and Atlanta Braves, the National Basketball Association's Golden State Warriors and the National Hockey League's Chicago Blackhawks.

Brandon Stevens, an Oneida Nation official, said Native Americans found the association offensive. "The warrior image is not the image we want to be portrayed," he said. "Having those negative stereotypes takes us back 100 years."

Green Bay protest organiser Clif Morton said the campaign would continue at other NFL stadiums. "Mr Snyder thinks that he's in control of more than he's in actual control of," Morton said. "The people will speak on this issue, more and more people."

Some high-profile sports columnists have voiced their opposition. Noted NFL analyst Peter King of Sports Illustrated magazine said he would no longer use the nickname. "I've been increasingly bothered by using the word, and I don't want to be a part of using a name that a cross-section of our society feels is insulting," he wrote.

He was joined by USA Today columnist Christine Brennan, who once covered the Washington team as a beat reporter.

Tim Graham of the Buffalo News said he would no longer use "the R-word" and he was followed by Philadelphia Daily News reporter John Smallwood. Online magazine and print magazines the New Republic and Mother Jones followed suit.

The battle has also been waged in the courts. There have been failed legal attempts by groups of Native Americans to ban the use of the trademark name in the past. One is proceeding through the courts now.

NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy defended use of the nickname. "We respect that reasonable people may have differing views," he said. "The name from its origin has always intended to be positive and has always been used by the team in a highly respectful manner."

In recent decades, numerous colleges and high schools have moved away from using Indians as symbols or mascots.

Stanford University, for example, switched from the Indians to the Cardinal in 1972, while North Dakota dropped its nickname of the Fighting Sioux last year and has not yet replaced it.

Eleanor Holmes Norton, a delegate to the US Congress representing the District of Columbia, said: "The legal handwriting is on the wall and Goodell's statement makes clear that this issue has become troublesome to the National Football League."

While the opposition has gained some momentum, there is no clear indication that any action will be taken.

Hoping to find another pressure point, George Washington University public interest law professor John Bazhaf is exploring whether references to the "Redskins" can be kept off broadcast stations as a racial slur.

A group of broadcasting experts had banded together to make a case for a legal challenge to a station's licence because of its alleged racism in using the term, he said.