The Washington Redskins have an offensive nickname. It’s one of those things we’ll look back on 20 years from now and find absurd.
For now, however, there is debate, there is publicity, there is a radio ad campaign. The Oneida Indian Nation, which is based in Verona, New York, has bought thousands of dollars worth of commercial time during Redskins games. They’ll be on D.C.’s local stations when the team plays at home, and on the opposing team’s local stations when the team plays on the road.
“We do not deserve to be called redskins. We deserve to be treated as what we are — Americans,” Oneida representative Ray Halbritter says in the ad, the Associated Press reported today.
The tribe, which runs the Turning Stone Resort & Casino in central New York and own a chain of gas stations, have channeled their money to this cause before. In May, Oneida bought new sports uniforms for Cooperstown Central School after the school board voted to change the high school’s nickname from Redskins to Hawkeyes.
The ad will first run this Sunday on D.C. stations before the Redskins’ game against the Philadelphia Eagles. It will ask NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to “stand up to bigotry.”
The league has continued to defend the nickname, though. In an email to the AP, NFL spokesperson Brian McCarthy 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.”
That’s highly questionable.
The nickname stemmed from the mind of Preston Marshall, the franchise’s co-owner who changed the Boston Braves to the Boston Redskins in 1933.
Couple things about Preston Marshall. When he died in 1969, his will stated that a majority of his riches should go toward a foundation in his name, and that the foundation must not use any of its money for “any purpose which supports or employs the principle of racial integration in any form.”
Under Marshall, the Redskins were the last team in pro football to sign a black player–which finally happened in 1961, 15 years after the sport began integrating.
“We’ll start signing Negroes when the Harlem Globetrotters start signing whites,” Marshall once said.
The tide against the nickname seems to have reached a new peak this year. After all, the Merriam-Webster definition of “redskin” notes that the word is “usually offensive.”
In May, 10 members of Congress sent a letter to Goodell and Redskins’ owner Daniel Snyder calling for a name change.
“In this day and age, it is imperative that you uphold your moral responsibility to disavow the usage of racial slurs,” the letter stated. “It also diminishes feelings of community worth among the Native American tribes and dampens the aspirations of their people.”
The franchise management has heard all that for years. They’re holding their ground.
The team’s general manager Bruce Allen said that he thinks “it’s a non-issue and it’s been a non-issue for decades.”
Snyder was more forceful, telling the USA Today, “We’ll never change the name. It’s that simple. NEVER — you can use all caps.”
And he does have support. An AP poll earlier this year showed the 79 percent of Americans don’t think the team should change the name.
Send story tips to the author, Albert Samaha