Washington, D.C.’s resident football team has been under fire for its name, which—according to most major dictionaries—is a derogatory slur directed against Native Americans. Yesterday the team launched a new site playing up its history and validating its name.
“We at RedskinsFacts.com contend that the name is a self-reference in the context of the football team itself—and in no way should it be considered a slur targeted at a specific ethnic subgroup of Americans,” the site says.
The site features sections dedicated to positive media coverage and favorable facts. Former team members and Native Americans, who claim to not mind the name, appear in videos. The homepage features 2004 study conducted by the Annenberg Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania, which reportedly found that 90 percent of Native Americans surveyed nationwide about the team’s name didn’t find it offensive. It also notes an Associated Press survey from earlier this year that found 83 percent of Americans wanted to keep the name.
But several questions have been raised. The Annenberg survey fails to specify who participated in the Native American citizens poll: Was it only people who were registered with a tribe, or people who are partially Native American?
Joel Barkin, the vice president of communications at Oneida Nation, suggests that the statistic of Native Americans who found the name to be inoffensive is deceptive, given that the survey was conducted 10 years ago. “The issue has evolved dramatically. Our basic response from the beginning has been that you can’t really poll morality anyway,” he told Newsweek. “At what point would this percentage matter to people?” Barkin says that every major Native American organization advocating for Native Americans have come out opposing the name, including “dozens of Indian nations and half the United States Senate.”
California’s Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation found the name offensive enough to buy airtime on June 10 during the NBA Finals to run an anti-Redskins spot. “Proud to Be,” produced by the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), pleaded for a name change. The Oneida Indian Nation and the NCAI recently published “Top 10 Facts Omitted from D.C. Team’s New PR Website” in response to the new site. The paper invokes the U.S. Patent Office defining redskin as a slur in 2014 and calls for the team to change their mascot immediately.
“With all of these examples, what becomes clearer and clearer is that the team and Dan Snyder [owner] think that if they throw enough money at this they can make it go away. They’re trying to financially change a word defined in the dictionary as a slur,” Barkin said.
However, the site claims that the term is of "benign" origin, according to senior linguist and curator at the Smithsonian Institution, Ives Goddard. It mentions that notable 19th century Native American leaders—Tecumseh and Sitting Bull among them—once called themselves “Red-skins.” The team has also dedicated a section defending the logo, which they claim was designed “in close consultation with Native American leaders” in 1971.
The Washington Post reports that three former players—Mark Moseley, Gary Clark and Chris Cooley—trekked out to the Rocky Boy’s Reservation in Montana earlier this week. Frustrated with the back-and-forth about the team name, Cooley proposed visiting the reservation to Bruce Allen, president of the team, months ago. In Montana, the players observed a football practice and met with tribal leaders of the Chippewa-Cree tribe before unveiling a new playground emblazoned with the team’s logo and colors.
According to Dustin White, a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of the Chippewa Indians, the team’s foundation donated 150 iPads for schools on the reservations, built the playground for the area’s children and sponsored a traveling rodeo team for the reservation.
Cooley confirmed that the team is funding the ad campaign behind the website, and that the team veterans flew to Montana on a chartered plane.
When asked about the partnership efforts in Montana, Barkin was unconvinced. “If this was really about an interest in building relationships with Indian country and addressing the real needs, why would they have to slap their marketing logos all over everything? These are desperate times for Indian country,” he said.