As football season begins in America, the campaign to change one NFL team’s name continues. The Oneida Indian Nation of New York announced last week the start of their “Change the Mascot” campaign to pressure Washington, D.C.’s football team, the Washington Redskins, to change its name and mascot.
“As a proud sponsor of the NFL, we are concerned that the NFL’s continued use of such an offensive term is undermining its position as a unifying force in America,” Oneida Nation representative Ray Halbritter said in a statement. “America is a society that values mutual respect. Using a slur and making a mascot out of our indigenous culture has no place in such a society.”
The Oneida Nation launched a new radio ad that began airing in the D.C. market on Sunday ahead of Monday night’s game between the Redskins and the Philadelphia Eagles. ”That word, Redskins, is not a harmless term,” Halbritter says in the ad. “We do not deserve to be called Redskins. We deserve to be treated as what we are: Americans.”
Three news outlets—Slate, The New Republic, and Mother Jones—announced in August that they would no longer use “Redskins” to write about the Washington football team; the New York Times and AP have said they will continue using “Redskins.”
American Indian Movement Youth Council Leader Tessa McLean of the Ojibwe Nation told NBC News that the term is offensive because of its reminder of colonization. “The dominating society says ‘we’re going to take your land, your language and culture and we’re going to determine a mascot for you, and you’re supposed to be okay with it.’”
The Redskins faced similar pressure from outside groups in the early ’60s that led to the team’s desegregation, making the Redskins the last NFL team to do so.
The pressure to change the Redskins’ name began earlier this year after the Washington Post published various columns calling for a new name. In February, Post ombudsman Patrick Pexton defended the paper’s choice after attacks that the city was bowing to the pressure to be politically correct. “Native Americans are not mascots or historical bygones to be imitated,” Pexton wrote, “they’re flesh-and-blood Americans, as much a part of the warp and weft of the living fabric of this country as George Washington or Thomas Jefferson.”
In May, 10 members of Congress—nine Democrats and one Republican—sent a letter to Redskins owner Dan Snyder and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell urging them to change the team’s name. The same group of lawmakers also introduced a bill to block companies from trademarking the term “redskin” in reference to Native Americans.
But Snyder said he has no plans to ever change the team’s name. “As a lifelong Redskins fan, and I think that the Redskins fans understand the great tradition and what it’s all about and what it means, so we feel pretty fortunate to be just working on next season.”
He added, “We’ll never change the name. It’s that simple. NEVER—you can use caps.”
But if Snyder did have a change of heart, this wouldn’t be the first time a team changed its name because of a negative connotation—though it would be the first time such controversy pushed the decision. In 1995, the Washington Bullets became the Washington Wizards because team owner Abe Pollin wanted to “express his abhorrence of gun violence” in the D.C. community.