The Case Against Washington, D.C.’s NFL Team Grows as Season Kicks Off

By Jamilah King Sep 04, 2014

As the Packers take on the Seahawks tonight in the NFL’s debut game, pressure is building for Washington, D.C. team owner Dan Snyder to change his franchise’s racist name. This week, Change the Mascot, a national campaign launched by the Oneida Indian Nation, released a letter signed by more than 100 partner organizations (including Colorlines’ publisher Race Forward) protesting the team’s name. They also released a letter to broadcasters to stop using the derogatory slur. In part it reads:

…We are writing to ask you to join other media organizations in refusing to broadcast the Washington team’s name on the public airwaves. The team’s name is a dictionary-defined racial slur. As of 2014’s U.S. Patent and Trademark Office ruling, it is also a government-defined racial slur. Those definitions are correct. Throughout history, this term has been used to disparage Native Americans. It is the term used by bounty hunters to describe bloody Native scalps, and it was the epithet screamed at Native Americans as they were dragged at gunpoint off their lands. No doubt, the bigotry of this word is why the team was originally given the name by its longtime owner, avowed segregationist George Preston Marshall.

The group, along with the National Congress of American Indians, are also leading a social media campaign that coincides with the start of the season. They’re asking users to use the hashtags #ProudtoBe and #SacktheRWord to join the discussion. 

As Yahoo! Sports has noted, the campaign is making an impact:

Some mainstream media broadcasters who will call and report on NFL games this season — such as NBC’s Tony Dungy and ESPN’s Lisa Salters — have said they might not say "Redskins" on air. CBS has said it will leave it up to its broadcasters to make individual calls on whether they choose to, and Phil Simms is one who has said he might not.

t’s clear that some people’s opinions on this story are changing. Not long ago, support for keeping the Redskins nickname — depending on the survey cited — hovered in the 80-to-90-percent range. But recently, other surveys, such as ESPN’s recent poll of 286 NFL players shows that the number has come down.

For now, they’re still the Redskins. But for how long? The league has been quite quiet on the issue largely, and there are marketing and promotional considerations that likely will keep things status quo for this season, and perhaps beyond. But if that support continues to dwindle and the Native American groups involved in this plea have their voice heard, we could see even more action and impetus for chance.

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