One of the biggest political debates that is currently going on in the North American sports world is the use of Native American motifs as mascots. At the centre of this debate is the Washington Redskins. The Redskins’ name is considered by many to be a racial slur, which separates the organization from similarly named teams like the Braves, Blackhawks, Indians, and Chiefs. By identifying Redskins as racist while ignoring these other organizations, the media has created a grey area of what should be considered acceptable.
While this debate has recently entered the forefront of the public conciseness, the use of Native Americans as sports mascots has been a political issue for decades. Many NCAA schools which had historically used this kind of imagery have since changed. The University of Miami in Ohio’s athletic teams used the name Redskins as well. After public pressure the school changed their name to the Redhawks. A similar incident occurred at the University of Syracuse, whose Orangemen and Orangewomen were changed to the Orange in order to avoid references to people of the Protestant fate. Schools like Florida State, whose Seminole nickname has been officially endorsed by the tribe itself, have been able to avoid much of this controversy.
Unfortunately for many Washington football fans it seems like a name change is inevitable, despite all of the history and tradition behind the Redskins nickname. Every other Native-named team has had to adapt to changes in public opinion. The Cleveland Indians have drastically minimized the use of their offensive Chief Wahoo logo on their uniforms, instead wearing caps with a simple C on the front of them. The Golden State Warriors have also eliminated all of the Native American imagery from their brand. The Atlanta Braves were planning on wearing a throwback cap that featured a laughing Brave head on the front but were forced to change their plans after strong backlash from the public. They have usually managed to avoid controversy by featuring a tomahawk in their logo instead of a Native person, much like the Kansas City Chiefs have done with the arrowhead.
Washington is a city forever tied to politics. It is interesting that this could be the second D.C. franchise that has been forced to change a politically incorrect nickname. High crime rates led to the Bullets becoming the Wizards, a name change that has not been fully accepted by the fanbase. Bullets merchandise is still popular and the team recently changed their logos and uniforms to more closely resemble the Bullets. It will be interesting to see the reaction of the Redskins fanbase if the team caves into public pressure and changes the name.