In May, Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder said he would never change the name of the team, despite calls from Native American groups, lawmakers and others who feel the term is derogatory. But those calls have grown increasingly louder.
In a notable shift in tone, National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell said last month that the league should listen to those who are offended by the name. “If one person is offended, we have to listen," Goodell said in a radio interview.
On Saturday, President Barack Obama weighed in on the controversy, telling the Associated Press that if he were Snyder, he'd consider a name change.
“If I were the owner of the team and I knew that there was a name of my team — even if it had a storied history — that was offending a sizable group of people, I’d think about changing it," Obama said.
The NFL declined to comment about Obama’s statement. But the president's comments were applauded by the Oneida Indian Nation, which is hosting a protest event in Washington on Monday at a hotel where NFL owners are scheduled to convene for their fall meeting.
“As the first sitting president to speak out against the Washington team name, President Obama’s comments today are historic,” Ray Halbritter, a representative for the group, said in a statement. “The use of such an offensive term has negative consequences for the Native American community when it comes to issues of self-identity and imagery.”
Lanny Davis, an attorney for Snyder, defended his client's decision to stick with "Redskins," pointing to a 2004 Annenberg Institute poll that found 9 out of 10 Native Americans were not offended by the team's name.
"Like devoted fans of the Atlanta Braves, the Cleveland Indians and the Chicago Blackhawks (from President Obama’s home town), we love our team and its name," Davis said in a statement. "And, like those fans, we do not intend to disparage or disrespect a racial or ethnic group.”
According to a June poll conducted by the Washington Post, 66 percent of adults in the D.C. area do not support a name change.
Nonetheless, former Federal Communications Commission Chairman Reed Hundt is working to persuade broadcasters to stop using the Redskins name as several prominent sports journalists, including Sports Illustrated’s Peter King, have already done.
And last month, the Washington Post's editorial board denounced the name. "We hope," the board wrote, "that Mr. Snyder finally understands that the team’s name — no matter its storied tradition or importance to many fans — is a racial slur of Native Americans so offensive that it should no longer be tolerated."
The Post noted that the team has "slowly shed pieces of its Indian-themed imagery":
Cheerleaders no longer wear long black braids and do a mock rain dance for touchdowns. The band no longer plays marches with elaborate feather headdresses. And nearly forgotten are the original lyrics to the fight song “Hail to the Redskins” as written by the movie star wife of the team’s first owner, laundry magnate George Preston Marshall.
“Scalp ’em, swamp ’um. We will take ’um big score,” has since been replaced with, “Beat ’em, swamp ’em, touchdown! — Let the points soar!”
Still, the mounting pressure to change the name may not amount to much, as Snyder has been steadfast — even stubborn — in his stance.
“We’ll never change the name," he told USA Today. "It’s that simple. NEVER – you can use caps.”
- Washington Redskins
- Barack Obama
- Daniel Snyder