One stumbling block in D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser’s pursuit to return the Washington Redskins to her home town has been her opposition to the team’s name.
Three years ago, as a member of the D.C. Council, Bowser (D) voted for a resolution calling the name “racist and derogatory.”
But a new Washington Post poll finding that most Native Americans are not offended by the team’s moniker may mute the mayor’s demand for a name change as part of any deal for a new stadium.
According to the poll, 90 percent of Native American respondents in all 50 states and the District said the name Redskins does not bother them. And 80 percent said they would not be personally offended if a non-native person called them a “Redskin.”
The findings show that despite years of lobbying by activists and even calls to change the name by President Obama, Native Americans remain unmoved by a battle waged on their behalf. Some even said they take pride in the name — as the Redskins team owner has been arguing for years.
It remains to be seen whether elected officials confronted by the new poll will continue their opposition to the name.
Asked about the poll results Thursday, Bowser was vague. “I have a RFK Stadium and site that is going to be vacant in a couple of years, and my job as mayor is to make sure that there is a plan to move that forward, and that is my focus, whether it’s football or not,” she said.
But she reiterated that she hopes the team returns to the District from Maryland. “Absolutely,” she said.
Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), chair of the finance committee, said the city should ignore the controversy and strike a deal with the team to bring it back to the District.
“We should put the issue of the name on the shelf and deal with where the stadium would be best located, and when you look at it from that point of view, there’s no doubt the best spot in the whole region is RFK,” Evans said. “If it gets built in Loudoun County only because of the name, how silly would that be?”
But Council member David Grosso (I-At Large), who wrote the 2013 city resolution that demanded the name be changed, said he is unmoved.
“If even a couple people feel it’s offensive, then I think the name should be changed,” he said.
The idea that the Redskins would have to jettison their name before returning to the District has put Bowser at a competitive disadvantage compared with her rivals to host the team, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) and Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R).
Both have played down the need for a name change with the team’s majority owner, Daniel Snyder, who insists he wants to keep the moniker.
The Redskins play at FedEx Field in Landover, Md., on a lease that expires in 2027 but have already hired an architect to begin designing the team’s future home.
Bowser has said she wants to talk with the team since the city is building a new soccer stadium that will leave RFK Stadium, which hosted the Redskins in its glory days, devoid of any sports team beginning in 2018.
The city is moving forward with a master plan for redeveloping the site that could include a new stadium, commercial hub and housing.
But the biggest obstacle has been opposition to the team name from elected leaders.
Eleven of 13 D.C. Council members — including Bowser — approved Grosso’s 2013 resolution urging a name change. The Arlington County Board passed a similar measure last year. Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) and two members of the Maryland General Assembly have also called for a new name.
As mayor, Bowser has repeatedly pointed to a 2014 poll commissioned by WAMU and the Washington City Paper that showed a majority of respondents opposed the name.
Council member Charles Allen (D-Ward 6), who represents the area including RFK, objects to a new stadium because he says it would be better to develop the land as a waterfront area with commercial and residential amenities.
“The name is not the driving force of whether putting a stadium there is a good idea, though I think the name is offensive,” Allen said. “The driving discussion should be about cost to taxpayers and land use.”
Local media outlets, including The Washington Post editorial page, the Washington City Paper, the Washington Business Journal and the website dcist.com no longer use the name.
At the Redskins’ home playoff game in January, Bowser sat in a box provided by the team and wore a team cap that said ‘Washington’ but not ‘Redskins.’
Opposition to the name from the Obama administration has further dimmed prospects for a new D.C. stadium because the National Park Service owns the land beneath RFK Stadium where a new field could be built. The lease expires in 2038, and an extension requires approval by Congress.
Jessica Kershaw, a spokeswoman for Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, said Thursday that Jewell remains opposed to the name despite the new poll.
“Secretary Jewell has been clear that she believes the Washington football team’s name is a relic of the past and should be changed,” Kershaw wrote in an email. The National Park service is an agency of the Interior Department.
In their pursuit of the Redskins, McAuliffe and Hogan have ignored the controversy. McAuliffe wears the team’s garb, attends the team’s training camp in Richmond and has a relationship with minority owner Dwight Schar, founder of Reston-based home-building giant NVR Inc.
McAuliffe has repeatedly said it is not his place to tell a private business what to call itself, and he came close to proposing legislation in Richmond earlier this year to establish a stadium authority capable of building a home for the team.