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November 14, 2013

Native American Campaign Keeps Redskins Name Controversy Alive

by Brian Padden

For decades, members of American Indian communities have called on the Washington Redskins football team to change its name, which they say is based on a racial slur.  But, this year a campaign called Change the Mascot that has been organizing protests across the country is keeping the controversy alive
   
Native American groups are escalating pressure on the Washington, D.C. professional football team to change its nickname - the Redskins - which is considered by many an offensive term used to insult American Indians.

“It is unacceptable that in this time in the 21st century a team would continue to use a racist slur over the objection by people, those people offended by it and victimized by it, especially when that team represents our nation’s capital,” said Ray Halbritter, a representative of the Oneida Nation of New York and one of the leaders of a campaign called Change the Mascot.  

The owner of the team, Dan Snyder, has repeatedly said he will not change the name, and that it is meant to honor, not disparage Native Americans.  Many diehard Washington football fans resent that support for the team is now being equated with racism.

“I feel that many Redskins fans, including myself, we feel like we are indirectly being called racist and bigoted and insensitive by supporting the team and supporting the nickname, and I don’t think that’s fair,” said Mike Richman, a reporter for the Voice of America, who has written two books on the history of the team.  

But opponents of the name are working to keep the issue alive by organizing protests in cities like Denver, Colorado when the Washington team comes to town. They have persuaded a number of sports journalists and news organizations like the San Francisco Chronicle to stop using the nickname.
 
“It is a racial slur and if we don't have to use it, we're not going to use it," said Audrey Cooper, the newspaper’s managing editor.

President Obama also has sided with Native Americans groups on this issue, saying if he owned the team he would consider changing the name.

"I don't know whether our attachment to a particular name should override the real legitimate concerns that people have about these things," he said.

National Football League commissioner Roger Goodell has said that if one person is offended, the league has to listen, but that ultimately it is the team owner’s decision.  While Snyder says he will never change the name, Native American opponents say time and building political pressure is on their side.