What’s in a name? Why Dan Snyder should call the Washington Redskins something else

If there’s one thing that’s not acceptable in the 21st century, it’s racial discrimination, whether it’s on the streets of Ferguson or in an NFL stadium. Yet the Washington Redskins continue to perpetuate a long-standing Native American stereotype. A brownish-red skinned Indian chief for a logo, fans doing the “tomahawk chop” and the name Redskins to go along with it.

Time and again, Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder has refused to change his beloved team’s name. He is clearly against a new moniker, and how could he not be? After all, he grew up in the D.C. area, a Redskins fan. But is it really all about the sentiment for Dan Snyder, or is it just as much about the money?

Consider the Redskins brand name. There’s a long history behind it, three Super Bowls to its credit, and an extraordinary amount of merchandise (over $200 million dollars in 2014) sold under the name “Redskins.” When your team is ranked as the 3rd most valuable in the NFL, it’s understandable that you’d hesitate to make a name change.

But no amount of money can hide the fact that the name and the logo are offensive to many Native Americans. James V. Fenelon, a professor of sociology from California State University, San Bernardino, conducted a study on “Racial and Ethnic Perspectives on the team name Redskins.” In this study, he surveyed 390 Native Americans, and 68.4% said they found the Redskins name disrespectful.

In a phone interview, Professor Fenelon said, “It’s a term that’s used in many different genocidal discourses throughout the 19th century and it’s clearly meant to denigrate and dehumanize native peoples of that time… It still carries much of the stereotyping and racist connotations from the [1800s]”.

In attempting to justify the retention of the Redskins’ team name, Snyder has asserted that the name doesn’t offend Native Americans. He even ventured so far as to say that the ‘Redskins’ title honors Native American culture. In an interview with ESPN, Snyder stated, “Washington Redskins is more than a name we have called our football team for over eight decades. It is a symbol of everything we stand for: strength, courage, pride and respect.”

In communicating his opinion of the Redskins logo and what it symbolizes for the organization, Snyder glorifies the stereotype. His viewpoint is truly shortsighted.

“It’s really, exactly, emblematic of the old Jim Crow South in the United States,” said Professor Fenelon. “You know, these forces, their dominant, supremacist, racist kind of thinking, they just don’t want to give it up!”

Wounded Knee Massacre
Wounded Knee Massacre. Creative Commons license

It’s quite clear that the Redskins name perpetuates the stereotype of dark-skinned natives, and the associated logo is equally offensive. In an old fashioned illustration, the logo depicts a red faced Native American with a severe expression and war paint on his cheek. It’s no different than a depiction of a yellow-faced Chinaman with slits for eyes and a bamboo hat on his head or a hook nosed Jew with glasses, a beard and a yarmulke on his head. It’s an image that degrades an entire group of people.

So why does Dan Snyder still disregard Native American opposition? “It’s an expression of what [sociologists] call a supremacist discourse by the dominant group,” said Professor Fenelon. “The [Redskins are] really representative of a lot of different teams…[they’ve] got a long history of racism. [They were] the last team to refuse de-segregation against African Americans.”

Furthermore, Dan Snyder is worried about the financial state of his team. He’s a hard-nosed businessman who’s worked tirelessly to get to where he is. As far as Snyder is concerned, the Redskins name is what gives them the third highest valuation in the NFL.

According to Professor Fenelon, “They’ll only [change the name]… when they’re literally paying a price for it.”

However, in a recent study conducted at Emory University, professors Michael Lewis and Manish Tripathi discovered that over the past decade, the Redskins have actually experienced decreased brand equity. Lewis and Tripathi also point out that past sports team name changes had an insignificant effect on revenues the following year and subsequent years.

The Washington Redskins official Facebook page currently has 1.8 million fans. Does Dan Snyder have such little faith in his supporters that he thinks they will take flight at the mere change of a name?

FedEx Field
Washington Redskins Stadium, FedEx Field. Creative Commons license.

Once Dan Snyder comes to the realization that this name change is going to have almost no effect on his franchise, not only will his critics disappear, but the controversy surrounding this truly offensive team name will too. It’s time for a change, Dan Snyder.

Author: Zack Atlas

Baseball analytics fiend

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