While NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said the league would have no comment, Redskins owner Daniel Snyder, who has vowed to never change the name, was naturally pleased.
“The Washington Redskins team, our fans and community have always believed our name represents honor, respect and pride,” he said in a statement released by the team. “Today’s Washington Post polling shows Native Americans agree. We are gratified by this overwhelming support from the Native American community, and the team will proudly carry the Redskins name.”
Joe Gibbs, the Hall of Fame former coach who led the team to three Super Bowl championships, called the findings “important to our whole Redskins community.” As a kid growing up in western North Carolina, Gibbs rooted for the team.
“That whole time, I was a Redskin and I loved it,” Gibbs told The Post’s Liz Clarke, “and when I got a chance to coach the Washington Redskins, I can honestly say I do not remember anybody saying anything negative to me about the Redskins name. The whole time I was there, I associated Redskins with courage and bravery. Today, everything in my house is Redskins.”
Tre Johnson, a former Pro Bowl offensive lineman with the team, said he’d like to learn more about the poll’s methodology, but added that he believes the 10 percent of Native Americans is still important.
“There are a lot of people in our culture today who are African-American and use the [N word],” Johnson told The Post’s Clarke. “Well, I don’t want that used because it affects my kids and their view of the world and their view of themselves. I might be in the 10 percent of African-Americans on that, based on the use in music and movies today. But I still feel offended by that word, and I don’t want it used. I don’t want my kids and future generations thinking that term is acceptable or has any valid definition going forward in the 21st century.
“It all comes down to whether this is a majority-wins issue. Do we care about everybody? Or do we care about most people? Do we only care about the majority and the majority culture? This has been an argument of minorities for some time.”
The results gave some who have opposed the nickname, like the managing editor of Pro Football Talk, pause. On Twitter, Michael David Smith wrote, “This poll is making me reconsider.”
The owner of one NFL team said they think the results will have an impact on how the issue is regarded within the league. “I do think [the] poll will affect the attitudes of some owners,” the source, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the controversial nature of the topic, told The Post’s Mark Maske.
All along, owners had been reluctant to get involved in what they felt was a matter between the league and one team. “There has not been much discussion about this, at least to my knowledge,” the owner told Maske. “I get the sense that this issue is gradually going away.”
For one of the Redskins’ highest-profile ex-players, former quarterback and current team broadcaster Joe Theismann, the poll was “significant.”
“The reason why it’s significant is because it comes from the Native American nation,” Theismann told The Post’s Clarke. “You’ve got politicians commenting on this, a lot of people commenting on this. To me, the people that matter are the Native Americans of this country. It’s their voice that I think is important to listen to. … We’re in a state in our society where if one person raises an issue, it seems like it becomes an issue for a lot of people. Will it ever go away? It has never gone away. This goes back many, many years. It’s just every now and then, it surfaces.
“But I think that this poll, as it shows 90 percent of Native Americans favoring the name, it hopefully will put it to rest for a long time.”
Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.), who has spoken out in opposition of the Redskins name, issued the following statement in response to the new poll:
“The question the poll does not answer is a moral one: will the National Football League and team owner Dan Snyder choose to continue to profit from a racist mascot and team name? The vast majority of Americans would never dream of calling a Native American the R-word. With racist roots directly linked to the genocide of Native Americans, it is just as hurtful and ugly as the N-word — especially for Native youth. Indian people and tribal nations face significant economic, health, and educational challenges that must be addressed. That starts with the NFL treating Native Americans with respect, not labeling them with a dehumanizing epithet.”
Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.), another staunch opponent of the name, was not swayed by the poll results. His office issued the following statement to The Post:
“A single poll does not change the facts: Indian Tribal Leaders, Native American organizations across the country, including the National Congress of American Indians, and their allies, have spoken out against the racist, offensive name of the Washington football team. A federal judge ordered the cancellation of the team’s trademark because the name is clearly disparaging to Native Americans. Instead of stubbornly clinging to this relic of the past, Dan Snyder and the NFL should do the right thing and change the name.”
Virginia state Sen. Chap Petersen (D-Fairfax) also issued a statement about the poll.
“As the founder of the Redskins Pride Caucus, I’m proud to stand with the Native American Guardians and other advocates who represent the ‘90%’ referenced in the Washington Post poll,” Petersen said. “As Redskins fans, we take seriously the history of the original Americans, whose legacy of honor and courage is reflected in our favorite football team. In the past season, our Pride Caucus hosted pro-Redskins events attended by members of the Navaho, Apache, Blackfoot and Cheroenhaka tribes. We look forward to doing more such events in 2016 — and representing the Redskins Pride all the way to the Super Bowl.”
Suzan Harjo, the lead plaintiff in a court case challenging the team’s trademark protection, questioned the validity of the results.
“The big picture is that [the poll’s finding] is totally opposite from my experience since the 1960s of where native peoples are today,” Harjo, who is affiliated with the Cheyenne and Hodulgee Muscogee tribes, told The Post’s Theresa Vargas. “And I know that from having a huge extended family in Oklahoma, in Nevada, in various states and across tribal lines. I know it from working with people who evaluate this kind of thing in their home communities. The tribal leadership, the native nations and the tribal leadership of all the native organization, all tell us well into the high 90s we have support on this issue. It’s only going in one direction.”
Felitia Hancock, a San Francisco teacher who is a Redskins fan, wrote on Facebook: “This all has to be taken in context of our history as a nation. It is highly unlikely that (former Redskins owner George Preston) Marshall chose the name to ‘honor’ Native Americans. He couldn’t give two hoots about Native Americans or what they felt or thought. Snyder didn’t give two hoots either until the name controversy came up. If you wouldn’t name the franchise this today then why is it okay to hold onto the name? Cultural appropriation is an American tradition in its own way, but that doesn’t make it okay. When the dominant culture gets to define what is appropriate and what isn’t appropriate for centuries, then it is way too easy to fall back on ‘honoring traditions’ as an explanation for why words, names or actions should be allowed. If you use common decency and civility as your measuring stick, then does the name “Redskins” demonstrate common decency or civility? No. So change it. Your sports fandom or your desire to make money should not trump (hmmm, loaded word now) common decency and civility.”
The Change the Mascot campaign issued the following statement in response to the poll:
“The results of this poll confirm a reality that is encouraging but hardly surprising: Native Americans are resilient and have not allowed the NFL’s decades-long denigration of us to define our own self-image,” said Change the Mascot leaders National Congress of American Indians Executive Director Jackie Pata and Oneida Nation Representative Ray Halbritter. “However, that proud resilience does not give the NFL a license to continue marketing, promoting, and profiting off of a dictionary-defined racial slur — one that tells people outside of our community to view us as mascots.
“Social science research and first hand experience has told us that this kind of denigration has both visible and unseen consequences for Native Americans in this country. This is especially the case for children, who were not polled and who are in a particularly vulnerable position to be bullied by the NFL. It is the 21st century — it is long overdue for Native Americans to be treated not as mascots or targets of slurs, but instead as equals.”
Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Council on Civil and Human Rights, maintains that a “slur is a slur is a slur,” even if the poll’s results are accurate.
“The fact that we’re poll-testing racial slurs against Native Americans shows how much we’ve ignored their basic humanity to begin with,” Henderson told The Post. “A slur is a slur is a slur. Frankly, I’m offended by the team name and I’m not even Native American. Celebrating and commodifying stereotype should have no place in 21st century America. Even if the poll’s results about this slur are accurate, that wouldn’t give license to Dan Snyder to cash in by appropriating it.”
Alex Zeese, a lifelong Redskins fan who has a podcast about the team and has been sympathetic to both sides of the issue, was diplomatic.
“My position is I understand both sides,” he wrote on Facebook. “As someone who’s a fan, I get the emotional attachment. As someone who’s part of a minority group and has experienced a level of discrimination because of that, I understand why people would be upset. Granted, Jews don’t deal with a level of discrimination that Native Americans or African Americans do. It’s simply that I’ve got an ability to empathize with just about anyone in the world.”
FedEx, which holds the naming rights to the Redskins’ FedEx Field, found the poll “consistent with other research we’ve seen concerning the name,” spokesman Patrick Fitzgerald said in a statement. “We highly value our sponsorship of FedEx Field, which not only hosts the Washington Redskins, but is also home to a variety of major entertainment and sports events and multiple community activities. We are proud that FedEx Field is a venue that is used by a wide range of community groups.” FedEx Chairman and President Fred Smith is a part owner of the Redskins.
ESPN’s Bomani Jones has opposed the nickname, as well as Cleveland’s use of the Chief Wahoo logo and was told by the network to cover up a “Caucasians” shirt he wore on a “Mike and Mike” appearance on ESPN radio.
More on the Redskins name debate: