June 06, 2013
By Larry Buford
LAWT Contributing Writer
Before the late Washington Redskins owner George Preston Marshall died in 1969, he reportedly vowed the team name would never be changed. Thirty years later a 1999 court decision to change the Washington Redskin’s name was overturned. Now ten members of Congress have signed onto a letter requesting again the name change. The letter written to team owner Dan Snyder reads in part, “For decades now, Native American leaders and organizations have been advocating an end to the use of “Redskin” as your organization’s “brand” because it is derogatory, demeaning and offensive.”
In a news segment on MSNBC, Native American Suzan Harjo – President and Executive Director of Morning Star Institute – said of the letter, “It gives everyone an idea that the last word does not come from the team owners…[it] indicates a sense…that this is to be taken seriously, it’s not a joke, it’s not something to be made sport of [sans humor]. Many people are tired of the racist name in the Washington D.C. area…it’s associated with the nation’s capitol, and how awful to have a racial slur against us here.”
A statement from team owner Dan Snyder read “We’ll never change the name. It’s that simple. NEVER!” In the same MSNBC segment Dave Zirin of Edgeofsports. com – when asked how a name change might affect the team – said, “It’s not the money because I think if they change the name the merchandise rewards they would receive would be immense. And if you ask Dan Snyder, be prepared for an ugly answer because [he] is a rather loathsome human being…his popularity in D.C. is only slightly below that of plague. [I] like football, [I] like this team…we’re actually disgusted with the fact that a racial slur is the name of an NFL franchise in the 21st century.”
About the ten congressional signees – nine of which are democrats and one a republican – critics say Congress is over-stepping and there are more important things they should be doing. They also say that a name change would only open a floodgate to name changes for other professional teams such as the Cleveland Indians. Additionally, in the letter the representatives argued, “Native Americans throughout the country consider the ‘R-word’ a racial, derogatory slur akin to the ‘N-word’ among African Americans or the ‘W-word’ among Latinos.” The representatives sent similar letters to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and FedEx President and CEO Frederick Smith, as well as to the owners of the NFL’s 31 other franchises.
There is the question of whether the issue even matters to the majority of Native Americans. A 2004 University of Pennsylvania National Annenberg Election Survey found that only nine percent (9%) of Native Americans found the name “Redskins” offensive or even racist.
The Redskins franchise is no stranger to charges of racism. While the rest of the league began drafting blacks in 1949, team owner Marshall, a known segregationist, held out until 1962 until Interior Secretary Stewart Udall and Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy issued an ultimatum — unless Marshall signed a black player, the government would revoke the Redskins' 30-year lease on the then year-old D.C. Stadium (now Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium), which had been paid for by government money and was owned by the Washington city government. In response, Marshall wanted to make Syracuse’s all-American running back Ernie Davis his number one draft choice for 1962. However, Davis demanded a trade stating “I won’t play for that S.O.B.” Davis was traded to Cleveland for All-Pro Bobby Mitchell – the first black football player to play for the Redskins.
Larry Buford is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer. Author of “Things Are Gettin’ Outta Hand” www.larrybuford.com,