The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Redskins’ #BlackOutTuesday tweet brings torrent of calls to change team name

(Patrick Semansky/AP)

A tweet sent Tuesday by the Washington Redskins as part of a widespread effort to address racial injustice resulted in a torrent of calls for the team to change its name.

Among those making that recommendation was Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.). Former NFL quarterback Sage Rosenfels also weighed in with a suggestion that the Redskins were not in a position to join #BlackOutTuesday.

The phrase “Blackout Tuesday,” rendered in various ways as a hashtag, reportedly originated in the music industry in the wake of George Floyd’s death while in custody of Minneapolis police. The goal was to pause business operations to provide time to reflect on how better to translate sympathy for the struggles of the black community into meaningful action.

The hashtag took off on social media and, in many cases, was accompanied by an image of a plain black square. While that led to complaints that the spate of tweets and Instagram posts of black squares, particularly when paired with a #BlackLivesMatter hashtag, was drowning out posts sharing important and timely information, the Redskins’ tweet sparked a different backlash.

A spokesman for the Redskins could not be immediately reached for comment.

The team, which changed its name from the Braves in 1933, has been the target of protests by Native American groups and others for decades. However, owner Daniel Snyder, a Redskins fan since childhood who purchased the team in 1999, has staunchly refused to consider making a change.

In 2013, Snyder sent a letter to Redskins fans in which he described the team name as “a badge of honor” and declared it “continues to hold the memories and meaning of where we came from, who we are, and who we want to be in the years to come.”

Snyder also noted at the time a pair of polls, including one from 2004 that surveyed self-identified Native Americans across the country, indicating few respondents were offended by the name. On Tuesday, some who responded to the Redskins’ tweet pointed to 2016 and 2019 polls in which a large majority of Native Americans surveyed were not bothered by the name.

A study published in March by researchers from Cal Berkeley and the University of Michigan, though, found that of the more than 1,000 Native Americans surveyed, “stronger Native identification (behavioral engagement and identity centrality) predicted greater opposition.” Sixty-seven percent of respondents who said they engaged frequently in tribal practices were strongly offended by caricatures of Native American culture (via Berkeley News).

Other professional sports teams that use terms and iconography deriving from Native American culture also garnered some pointed replies Tuesday. One Twitter user said of a “BlackOutTuesday” post by the Chicago Blackhawks, “Your logo makes as much sense as a sports team named the Berlin Rabbis. Your actions give the lie to your words.”

A tweet Tuesday by the Atlanta Braves in which they said they “fervently stand in opposition to any and all discriminatory acts, racism and injustice” was met by one Twitter user’s reply of “STOP THE TOMAHAWK CHOP.” In October, after an opposing pitcher who belongs to the Cherokee Nation complained about a rally tradition favored by Braves fans and encouraged by the team, Atlanta decided not to distribute foam tomahawks before a playoff game. The Braves also said at the time that they would not be “playing the accompanying music or using Chop-related graphics” when that pitcher was in the game, but the chant and chopping motion occurred at other points in the contest.

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