OFFICIALS WITH Washington’s football team have defended the team’s name by arguing that its fans and many Americans, including some who are Native American, see nothing objectionable in the moniker and don’t want it changed. The suggestion, of course, is that the push for a new name comes from outliers, a vocal but clueless minority. That makes even more significant the decision by a group with close ties to the National Football League to add its respected voice to the chorus for change.
“We cannot be silent on this issue,” leaders of the Fritz Pollard Alliance said in a statement announcing its opposition to the name, a statement that was not coincidentally released on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The group, which is named after the first black NFL head coach and which promotes diversity and equality of opportunity in the league, said a new name for the Washington team is urgently needed. “As the NFL continues to move in the direction of respect and dignity, one of its teams carrying this name cuts glaringly against the grain,” read a letter sent to minority coaches and front-office staff members.
As we’ve said before, we understand that many fans oppose a name change out of feelings of tradition and loyalty. That doesn’t make them racist. But few of them would dream of flinging the disparaging name at a Native American. That suggests how insupportable the name has become.
The Fritz Pollard Alliance joins other civil rights groups that have come out against the team’s name, but the group’s close association with the NFL and its track record of success in bringing about positive change gives particular resonance to its message. It made clear this was a decision not lightly taken; it followed a lengthy process that included meetings with team and league officials, a review of historical and legal issues and talks with Native Americans. Indeed, it seems as if the group felt it had no other choice but to come out publicly since it was backed into a corner by the intransigence of Washington team officials.
Most troubling from the group’s chronology of its efforts was the refusal of team owner Daniel Snyder to meet with Native Americans opposed to the team’s name. At one point, The Post’s John Woodrow Cox and Mark Maske reported, Fritz Pollard officials were shouted down in a “hostile” and “jarring” manner by the executive director of the foundation created by Mr. Snyder to help Native Americans. That refusal to even hear a differing viewpoint shows a closed mind and should concern league officials.
NFL officials have maintained that any decision about the name lies solely with Mr. Snyder. So it’s interesting that when Fritz Pollard officials told NFL officials, including Commissioner Roger Goodell, that they would go public with their position, they were told to do what they had to do. We hope that means league officials are beginning to understand how detrimental Mr. Snyder’s obstinacy is to their entire organization.