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This morning, July 13, Washington, DC’s National Football League (NFL) team officially announced that it would be changing its name, the “Redskins,” as well as its logo, a cartoon illustration of a Native American man. The slur and racist caricature have been long opposed by Indigenous advocacy groups.
Earlier this month, sponsors amplified financial pressure on the team. On July 2, FedEx threatened to withdraw its $8 million sponsorship if the name was not changed. Nike withdrew its product sponsorship, and Walmart, Target, and Amazon threatened to remove the team’s merchandise from their stores. On July 3, the team announced plans to conduct a “thorough review” of its branding, culminating in today’s decision.
This corporate pressure comes after decades of pushback against the team’s offensive imagery, led by activists like Suzan Shown Harjo. In 2014, thousands of protesters rallied outside a football stadium in Minneapolis, where the DC team was playing against the Minnesota Vikings. Demonstrators brandished signs saying “A slur is a history of harm not ‘honor,’” “I’m not a mascot,” and “Change the name!” That same year, 50 senators urged the NFL to encourage the team to drop its name.
In 1992, Native American activists demanded that the US Patent and Trademark Office redact the team’s trademark on the word “redskin.” In 2017, the Supreme Court ruled that the trademark was protected by the First Amendment, but activists continued to raise awareness about the pervasiveness of anti-Indigenous racism.
The mission of Change the Mascot, a campaign led by New York’s Oneida Nation, has long been to educate the public about the harm done by such imagery. Last week, the National Coalition Against Racism in Sports and Media formally requested to be included in deliberations about rebranding the team. The National Congress of American Indians also made a statement requesting that their voices be considered after years of advocacy.
In 2018, writer Frederick Joseph wore a shirt parodying the logo to highlight the hypocrisy among some of the team’s supporters, bearing the name “Caucasians” and replacing the mascot with a white man. He went on to detail some of the backlash he experienced while wearing the shirt around New York City.
Team owner and billionaire Daniel Snyder has in the past vowed to maintain the name and logo. But as monuments to white supremacists, imperialists, and colonizers have come down across the globe, Indigenous causes have been amplified, drawing attention to the the insidious ways casual racism are ingrained in our culture. Simultaneous to today’s announcement, thousands of schools and other programs across the US still use Native American symbols, caricatures, and nomenclature in sports, an indication of the pervasive and continued appropriation of Indigeneity.