- By Levi Rickert
WASHINGTON — The Washington NFL franchise announced in a three-paragraph statement Monday the retirement of its racist name and logo, a move that follows decades of criticism from Native American activists and comes 10 days after the team announced it would reconsider the name.
“Today, we are announcing we will be retiring the [team] name and logo upon completion of this review,” the statement said.
The announcement did not indicate a completion date of the review.
The decision to change the name is a historic victory for American Indians, who have called for the name to be changed for decades.
The name has been in place for 87 years.
American Indian organizations, including the American Indian Movement, have also called for the team to discontinue its use of the racist slur.
Dan Snyder, the team’s majority owner, vowed to “never” change the name. But in recent weeks the pressure from major sponsors and the Native public mounted.
“Dan Snyder and Coach Rivera are working closely 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,” the statement concluded.
The controversial name was part of a legal battle that began with Suzan Harjo (Cheyenne-Arapaho) and others seeking to have the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office revoke the name in September 1992.
In wake of the police killing of George Floyd and the national protests for racial justice brought on by the Black Lives Matter movement, momentum increased as the nation reconsidered the legacies of offensive statues, team names and mascots. The Washington NFL team’s name once again grabbed national headlines.
During early June, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Washington D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) said it's time to change the name.
Facing pressure of losing major corporate sponsors, such as FedEx and Pepsi, the franchise announced it would embark on a thorough review of the team name.
According to the Reclaiming Native Truth project released in June 2018, four out of five American Indians say they find Native-themed mascots disrespectful. There is a basis for American Indian opposition that goes beyond the racist nature of mascots:
“Research shows that these mascots are damaging to Native high school and college students, negatively impacting feelings of personal and community worth, and that they reinforce bias among non-Native people,” says the Reclaiming Native Truth study.
Monday’s announcement drew praise from several national American Indian tribes and organizations.
“July 13, 2020 is now a historic day for all Indigenous peoples around the world as the NFL Washington-based team officially announced the retirement of the racist and disparaging team name and logo. This change did not come about willingly by the team’s owners, but by the mounting pressure and advocacy of Indigenous peoples such as Amanda Blackhorse, and many other warriors who fought long and hard for this change,” Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez and Vice President Myron Lizer said in statement.
By the end, it was likely the threat of losing significant corporate sponsors and revenue that pushed Snyder to retire the name.
“Advocates have been calling for the removal of mascots and stereotypical images from sports teams since at least the 1960s. We are grateful for the shareholders of FedEx, Nike and PepsiCo who forced Dan Snyder’s hand, and enlightened the country about the negative impact these words and images have on Native peoples, especially our youth. It is sad that our voices were not strong enough to convince Snyder of his part in the ongoing discrimination against Native Americans. But in the end, enough individuals with the power of the purse string were able to change this course of history––and support a movement that is incredibly significant to the health and welfare of Indian Country,” Shannon Keller O'Loughlin (Choctaw), an attorney and the executive director of the Association on American Indian Affairs, told Native News Online.
“Today we celebrate the retirement of the Washington NFL football team name that has long perpetuated racism and harm against Native peoples. This is 30 years in the making, and we honor the leaders of this movement, Suzan Harjo and Amanda Blackhorse, and important contributors such as Dr. Stephanie Fryberg, First Peoples Worldwide and thousands of other Native organizations, people and tribal leaders who have fought for this,” said Crystal Echo Hawk, the executive director of IllumiNative.
The long struggle to have the name changed is officially over. In the end, it was a three-paragraph statement that accomplished what American Indians had been fighting for over a span of decades.
“Tomorrow, our fight continues. We will not rest until the offensive use of Native imagery, logos and names are eradicated from professional, collegiate, and K-12 sports, Echo Hawk added. “The time is now to stand in solidarity and declare that racism will not be tolerated.”
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