Social transformation has unfolded in all corners of the United States in the wake of the tragic murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and so many other African Americans as a result of racially motivated violence and police brutality. Policy changes including choke hold bans have been introduced in several states and local communities, while dozens of statues of known slave owners have been removed by city council members and protesters alike. Even the sports industry has participated in this initiative, with NASCAR banning the Confederate flag after African American driver Bubba Watson publicly called on the car racing association to do so in June 2020. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell claimed the league “was wrong” for failing to listen to players who stood up to racial inequality on and off the field, including those who have carried on Colin Kaepernick’s famous stance of kneeling during the playing of the national anthem. Goodell further promised that over the next ten years, the NFL will contribute as much as $250 million to help “end systemic racism.”
As more and more sports affiliations announce their support of Black Lives Matter and commitment to fighting racial injustice, questions surrounding racially offensive mascot names and logos are finally being considered seriously by team administrators and staff. At the heart of the controversy are Washington’s NFL team, who since 1933 have been called the Redskins, a name which demonizes Native Americans and perpetuates the issue of institutional racism throughout the country. Merriam-Webster Dictionary specifically categories the word redskin as an “[offensive]” term to describe Native Americans in a contentious and vulgar manner. It is therefore most disturbing that for almost 90 years, this namesake has been cherished by millions of fans and printed across countless team memorabilia, all the while casting a racist shadow over one of the most well known football organizations in the United States.
Calls for the changing of Washington’s mascot are by no means a recent phenomenon, as in 1972, a delegation of 11 individuals representing several Native American groups met with then team President Edward Bennett Williams. According to the Washington Post, the delegation called the name Redskin a “derogatory racial epithet,” and requested that it be replaced immediately. Not only did this meeting fail to yield the necessary change, but by the following year, the team swapped their traditional “R” logo with an image of a Native American warrior, which until last season, was still displayed on players helmets. Other protests and social demonstrations have transpired since and likewise produced little to no result, much to the dismay of Native Americans who continue to be marginalized and reminded of their substandard treatment in American society.
However, in light of recent events, the organization has been forced to address this long overdue matter as a result of heightened outside pressure from activists and team sponsors. FedEx, who in 1999 signed a $205 million stadium naming rights deal with the team, announced on Thursday July 2nd that they had “communicated to the team” their wish that the Redskins name be changed. Upon completing a “thorough review” of the name, Washington’s management confirmed on Monday July 13th that they would indeed “[retire] the Redskins name and logo,” according to ESPN. The team also revealed they would immediately work “to develop a new name and design approach that will enhance the standing of our proud, tradition-rich franchise and inspire our sponsors, fans and community for the next 100 years.”
While this news is indeed a major victory and an important step in eliminating racial inequality and disparities from the sports community, there is unfortunately still much work to be done. Many other American sports teams still embrace equally controversial names, and are yet to indulge any effort in considering the prospect of change as well. This includes but is not limited to the NFL’s Kansas City Chiefs and NHL’s Chicago Blackhawks, and while the MLB’s Cleveland Indians are currently amidst a review process and are reportedly strongly considering changing names, Terry Pluto of Public Radio for Northeast Ohio has said such a process may not be completed until 2022.
Besides professional leagues, some college athletic teams also embrace offensive and derogatory stature in their programs’ names and team issued apparel. This includes Florida State University, who continue to incorporate the Seminole, a Native member of the indigenous Creek nation, as their official NCAA mascot. Additionally, there are more than 2,200 U.S. high schools still using “Native imagery in their school names,” according to a June 2020 New York Times report. Further problematic are schools continuing to institutionalize the Confederacy, including the Lee-Davis High School of Mechanicsville, Virginia, named after the infamous Confederate General Robert E. Lee and President Jefferson Davis. As a result, an unprecedented national commitment will be necessary from school boards and professional sports teams, who must jointly put an end to the internalization of racially charged mascot names and logos. The elimination of the Redskins namesake cannot serve as the only step, but rather the first of many to help eliminate the racial barriers obscuring the well-being of the United States.
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