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Tribal leaders, politicians: Redskins’ review of name is step toward NFL being on ‘right side of history’

Several tribal leaders and prominent politicians said they were encouraged by Redskins owner Daniel Snyder's decision to review the team name, but they also pushed for it to be changed. (Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)

Native American leaders and activists as well as prominent politicians have called for Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder to change the name of his NFL team for years. So when the team announced Friday that it will “undergo a thorough review” of the name after several corporate sponsors demanded it be changed, many of those leaders were pleased.

“This moment has been 87 years in the making, and we have reached this moment thanks to decades of tireless efforts by tribal leaders, advocates, citizens and partners to educate America about the origins and meaning of the r-word,” said Fawn Sharp, president of the National Congress of American Indians.

Chuck Hoskin Jr., chief of the Cherokee Nation, called the name review “a start.” In a telephone interview, he described a long fight with not only the Washington franchise but the many high schools that have similar team names and mascots. The fact that an NFL franchise is considering a change that just days ago appeared impossible seemed to inspire him.

The Cleveland Indians baseball team announced it will consider changing its name just hours after the Redskins on July 3 said it will review its name. (Video: Reuters)

“Now my hope is that the dialogue is enriched and those who have been pushing for change have been emboldened and those who have resisted it perhaps reflect on what happened today and reconsider,” Hoskin said.

Redskins move toward changing controversial team name

In October, the day before about 300 people protested the team’s name outside U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, where Washington was about to play the Minnesota Vikings, Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.) stood before the House of Representatives and called the name “a racist slur.” On Friday, she questioned why Snyder would need to review the name, asking that it be changed immediately.

“As we celebrate Independence Day, we know that our forefathers were not perfect people, and we’re striving to be a more perfect union,” she said. “It’s time for the NFL to join us in that effort and change the name and mascot.”

McCollum, who chairs the House interior, environment and related agencies subcommittee, said she has “long been offended” by the team name, even before she assumed office in 2001, adding that it has bothered her the way people would not give “a second thought to a racial slur or mascots made towards Native American brothers and sisters.”

Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), who in 2014 helped lead 50 senators to sign a letter urging the NFL to force a name change, tweeted: “The @NFL does not need to condone a dictionary-defined racial slur to play football. Time for the NFL to be on the right side of history.”

DeMaurice Smith, executive director of the Washington-based NFL Players Association, told The Post in 2014 that the Redskins’ name conveys “racial insensitivity.” He offered his approval of the team’s decision Friday.

“I expressed my concerns about the team name a long time ago and support this decision,” he wrote on Twitter. “This can be a moment, especially for our city in this time, to take a step towards unity and healing.”

Aside from Redskins Coach Ron Rivera’s team-issued statement Friday in which he said that the issue “is of personal importance to me” and that he looked forward to working with Snyder “to make sure we continue the mission of honoring and supporting Native Americans and our Military,” few current or former players said anything about what might be one of the most significant moments in franchise history.

A current player, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he didn’t want to upset Snyder, said he was “uncomfortable” with the name but wouldn’t elaborate. A former player who has stayed friendly with Snyder and also spoke on the condition of anonymity said, “The name is offensive to Native Americans and should be changed.”

Other current and former players did not respond to calls and messages or declined to comment, with one saying it was an issue only Snyder should address.

Quarterback Dwayne Haskins made reference to the possible name change in a tweet, saying, “I like the redtails” with a thinking emoji.

Washington’s NFL team name change: What you need to know

Washington’s NFL team revealed that it will be the Commanders, a tribute to Washington’s military ties.

For more than two decades, Washington NFL team owner Daniel Snyder fiercely resisted calls to change the name of his team, despite protests that the name is offensive to Native Americans.

After immense pressure for a change and an internal review of the name, the team announced in 2020 that it will “retire” the name.

When it became apparent that there was no simple way to quickly pick a new name, navigate trademark issues and design a logo, the team announced that it will play as the Washington Football Team and pick a permanent replacement name later.

A year and a half after retiring its old name and promising a new one, the Washington Football Team announced that it would unveil its name and logo Feb. 2.

The 18-month rebranding created a guessing game for fans, but it also has elicited optimism among players and coaches about a fresh start.