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Washington Football Team Facts: Everything You Need to Know About Why the Nickname Has to Go

The stadium scene.
July 30 2014 6:01 PM

Washington Football Team Facts

Everything you need to know about why the nickname has to go.

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1 The Facts

Here at WashingtonFootballTeamFacts.com (sponsored by online magazine/grass-roots movement Slate), we’re thinking football fans. We believe the team’s nickname needs to go—that “history” and “tradition” are no excuse for continuing to use a slur that offends so many Native Americans.

We’re passionate about the game, and even more passionate about the “Burgundy and Gold.” None of us believe in offending or discriminating against people of any ethnicity for any reason.

Here’s what you need to know:

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  • The team’s nickname-defending site notes that Smithsonian Institution scholar Ives Goddard published an article in 2005 noting that “the actual origin of the word is entirely benign.”* But the meanings of words evolve. By the early 20th century, the word was most often used in a derogatory context, and sports pages often resorted to “scalping” puns. In 2013, the Native American director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian said it was “the equivalent of the N-word.”

  • An oft-cited poll by the Annenberg Public Policy Center claiming that 90 percent of Native Americans are OK with the name was methodologically flawed, as explained by Washington Post columnist Robert McCartney. In a more recent Washington Post poll, two-thirds of Washingtonians said they wouldn’t change the name. But 56 percent of the people who professed they would keep the name say it “is inappropriate.”

  • Another poll, by the Center for Indigenous Peoples Studies at California State University–San Bernardino, found that 67 percent of American Indians believe the “team name is a racial or racist word and symbol.”

  • The team’s nickname-defending site explains that “[h]igh schools on Native American reservations … continue to embrace and use the [Washington football team] name and logo.” But as Ian Crouch of The New Yorker reports: “Since 1971, nearly two-thirds of professional and amateur athletic teams bearing Native American iconography have made a change.”

  • The team’s nickname-defending site also claims that “in 1933, four players and then-head coach William Henry ‘Lone Star’ Dietz identified themselves as Native Americans.” The Washington Post, though, revealed that Dietz “served jail time for dodging the draft during World War I because he falsely registered as an Indian.”

  • The team’s nickname-defending site features a quote from the grandson of the designer of the Washington franchise logo: “An Indian from the State of Montana created that logo, and did it the right way.” The Washington Post reports that another of the logo designer’s grandsons believes the nickname “is an indefensible racial slur that needs to go.”

  • The nickname’s originator, Washington owner George Preston Marshall, was a virulent racist. Marshall refused to sign a black player until 1962, making Washington the last NFL team to do so. Counter to the franchise’s claims, Marshall’s choice of the team nickname had nothing to do with honoring Native Americans like “Lone Star” Dietz. Rather, it was a marketing ploy.

  • The Society of Indian Psychologists, the American Counseling Association, the American Psychological Association, and the American Sociological Association have all called for Native American mascots to be retired.

  • In 2014, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office canceled trademark protection for the nickname, calling it “disparaging to Native Americans.”

  • The team’s nickname-defending website is not a grass-roots effort, as the Washington franchise implied. It’s a crisis-management page concocted by the PR firm Burson-Marsteller.
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2 What Others Are Saying

Want to know what other people who want to change the Washington NFL team’s name are saying in the media and online? Read and watch below.

Dan Snyder’s Fake Chief,” Deadspin

Dave McKenna reports that “Chief Dodson,” whom the team touted as a prominent Native American supporter of the nickname, “is neither a full-blooded American Inuit nor a chief in any formal sense of the term.”

Proud to Be,” commercial commissioned by the National Congress of American Indians

Theresa Vargas and Tom Jackman write: “The man leading a Washington [NFL team] foundation aimed at helping Native Americans also heads an organization that had a $1 million contract with the Bureau of Indian Affairs terminated after federal investigators found the group’s work ‘unusable.’ ”

The Battle of Washington,” The MMQB

An April report by Jenny Vrentas states that while “team officials and the NFL paint a nearly uniform picture of support for the name,” the real story is much more complicated. Vrentas quotes Native Americans who support the nickname and those who oppose it. Her conclusion: “Perhaps the most relevant question is not if there is a consensus among the country’s more than 5 million Native Americans—the answer is no—but rather, should a name change depend on one?”

“ ‘[W]e’ve discovered that if you briefly pause to remember it’s a racial slur for an indigenous group wiped out by genocide over the course of a few centuries, then, yeah, it’s awful,’ said lead researcher Lawrence Wagner, adding that only if you allow the NFL franchise’s name to register in your mind does it evoke the thought of human beings devastated by the forced removal from tribal lands, intentional exposure to smallpox, and countless massacres.”

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3 Show Your Support

If you believe that the Washington NFL team’s name should be replaced, you’re not alone—and it’s important that you make your voice heard!

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4 About Us

WashingtonFootballTeamFacts.com is a growing online community of passionate Washington Football Team fans and others who believe it’s long past time for the team to change its name and logo.

As former Slate editor David Plotz wrote in 2013, “Changing the way we talk is not political correctness run amok. It reflects an admirable willingness to acknowledge others who once were barely visible to the dominant culture, and to recognize that something that may seem innocent to you may be painful to others. In public discourse, we no longer talk about groups based on their physical traits: No one would ever refer to Asians as yellow-skinned. This is why the majority of teams with Indian nicknames have dropped them over the past 40 years.”

And yet, Washington owner Daniel Snyder is adamant that the team’s nickname isn’t going anywhere. There is even a website created by PR firm Burson-Marsteller that collects supposed “facts” that support the franchise’s continued use of a racial slur.

Here are just a few prominent people and organizations that support changing the name:

*Correction, July 31, 2014: This page originally misidentified the Smithsonian Institution as the Smithsonian Institute. (Return.)