The Problem

"It is the worst name we can be called in the English language...And it’s in the nation’s capitol.”

- Dr. Suzan Shown Harjo, Muscogee-Cheyenne activist and journalist

The name of the Washington NFL franchise has been a decades-long source of concern ranging from outrage to embarrassment for Native Americans and many of the team’s fans. Support has been growing among NFL fans across the country as more become aware of the shameful history and origin of the name.

Native American leaders, tribes and organizations have fought tirelessly on this issue, but 80 years is enough – it’s time for NFL fans to make their voices heard too.

What’s wrong with the name of the team?

The term Redskin is an offensive stereotype and an ethnic slur used to refer to Native Americans.

The American Heritage Dictionary offers this definition of the term: 

  • Red-skin: (noun)  Offensive slang.  Used as a disparaging term for a Native American.

The same dictionary uses the same words to define the meanings of the most hurtful words used to refer to African-Americans, Hispanics, Latinos, Jews, Homosexuals and the Mentally Disabled.

Although other professional sports teams – the Braves, the Chiefs, and the Blackhawks – have Native American-related nicknames, none of those terms have the pejorative meaning that Redskins does. 

Where does the term come from?

A lot has been written on the origin of the word.  Some historians suggest a benign origin, while Native Americans and other historians have traced the word to more brutal roots. 

See the Research section for other sources to read on this topic.

Who gave the team its name?

The team was given its name by the original owner of the franchise, George Preston Marshall. Originally known as the Boston Braves, Marshall changed the name of the team after hiring a journeyman college coach by the name of William Henry Dietz, a German claiming Sioux heritage and going by the nickname “Lone Star.” Dietz signed a handful of Native American ex-players of his to the team, made them wear headdresses and war paint on game days at Marshall’s request, and Marshall renamed the franchise the Washington Redskins.*

Subsequent research by historian Linda Waggoner shows Dietz was not Native American. Dietz stole the identity of a missing Sioux man named “Lone Star” and impersonated him for years, even after his indictment by the FBI for falsely registering for the draft as a “non-citizen Indian of the United States”.

Who has called for the name to be changed?

A broad range of individuals and groups have shown their support for a name change in a variety of ways. High-profile sportswriters including Peter King of Sports Illustrated, Christine Brennan of USA Today, and Bill Simmons of ESPN and Grantland have pledged to not refer to the team by its name in their columns.

The United Methodist Church, Central Conference of American Rabbis, NAACP, Amnesty International, General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, United Church of Christ, Unitarian Universalist Association, and the United Nations Commission on Human Rights are just a handful of the numerous international, national and local organizations that have passed resolutions or made statements either rejecting the use of prejudicial or derogatory sports mascots or calling outright for a new name.

Numerous Native American tribes, including the National Congress of American Indians, the Oneida Nation, and the Great Lakes Inter-Tribal Council are currently waging campaigns or have taken action against the team name.

Lastly, the editorial boards of the Washington Post, Portland Oregonian, Mother Jones, Slate, The New Republic, The Los Angeles Times, Washington City Paper, and other magazines and newspapers have all made it their editorial policy to not refer to the Washington football team by name.

Click here for a fuller list of individuals, groups and organizations who have spoken in favor of a new tradition.

Why hasn’t the name been changed?

Washington team owner Daniel Snyder is responsible for initiating the process to rename the team. However, Mr. Snyder has vowed to “never” change the team name. Unfortunately, Mr. Snyder’s remarks only serve to remind NFL fans and Americans of the racially insensitive history of this franchise.

Many Washingtonians, and other NFL fans of a certain generation, are aware that the Washington franchise, under original owner George Preston Marshall, was the last team to accept integration of African-American players.  Marshall only relented after Interior Secretary Stewart Udall threatened to deny the team use of the new, publicly financed D.C. Stadium (later renamed in honor of Robert F. Kennedy) until it stopped denying African-Americans on its roster.

But, this team name has existed since 1933, why change it now?

There’s never a bad time / it’s always a good time to do the right thing, and traditions are not inherently virtuous, as any cursory examination of the world’s history demonstrates.

For a local example that change along these lines is possible, it was once tradition for the lyrics to the team fight song to include the passage “...fight for Old Dixie / Scalp 'em...” and the song is still sung, with revised lyrics, by fans at (nearly) every game.

*Upon his death in 1969, Marshall left the bulk of his estate to a foundation in his name. One of Marshall’s conditions for the foundation was not to spend any funds toward “any purpose which supports or employs the principle of racial integration in any form.” Although the administrators of his estate have ignored Marshall’s wishes, his offensive legacy of the team name lives on to this day.