A large but shrinking majority of Americans say the Washington Redskins should not change their team’s name, according to a poll released Tuesday finding over two-thirds of the public does not think the name is disrespectful of Native Americans.
Public opinion continues to be lopsided in favor of keeping the name, with 71 percent saying it “should not” be changed in the new poll conducted for ESPN’s “Outside the Lines,” which broadcast a special report on the name controversy Tuesday night.
Support for the Redskins name has fallen substantially from 89 percent in a 1992 Washington Post-ABC News poll and 83 percent in an online Associated Press-GfK survey earlier this year. While clearly outnumbered, the percentage saying the team should change its name has grown from 8 percent in 1992 to 23 percent in the new survey.
The data reflect a smoldering battle over the name’s acceptability even as a growing number of Native American groups, political leaders and media have denounced it as a racial slur.
Redskin team members may not be so different from the public at large on the team’s name. In an informal set of interviews of players over the offseason and during training camp, ESPN reporters asked directly: “Yes or no: Do the Redskins need to change their name?” Of the 51 Redskins who were asked this question, 26 said they should keep the name and 24 players refused to answer. A single player interviewed said the team name needs to change. ESPN did not disclose the names of the players interviewed.
The poll shows somewhat higher support nationally than in a Washington Post poll last year of D.C.-area residents. Some 66 percent in that survey supported keeping the name while 28 percent said it should be changed.
A partisan divide on the issue that was absent in previous polls is clear in the latest data. Democrats’ support for keeping the name has dropped from 85 percent in 1992 to 58 percent, while independents’ support has also dropped by double digits, from 92 to 74 percent. Fully 89 percent of Republicans say the Redskins should not change their name, little changed from 92 percent over two decades ago.
Democratic lawmakers on Capitol Hill have spoken out against the name. In May, 50 Democratic senators released a letter to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell urging that the name be changed.
Redskins owner Daniel Snyder has refused to change that name, arguing that the name honors Native Americans.
Redskins spokesman Tony Wyllie said via e-mail: “The ESPN poll methodology is obviously skewed negatively but it still shows three to four times more support for keeping the name. Thanks to all of the Players, Coaches and fans over the last 82 years, we are fortunate to always be recognized as one of the most popular sports teams in the world. We are looking forward to our season opener in Houston on Sunday.”
“We are gratified to see that opposition to slurring Native Americans is building throughout the country,” said Ray Halbritter, a representative of the Oneida Nation, which has been a vocal opponent of the team’s name. Halbritter discounted the relevance of a poll primarily of those who are not Native American, however. “They are not the ones whose family members and children are being systematically slurred by a multi-billion-dollar global corporation.”
The basic question of whether “Redskins” is offensive stands at the core of support for keeping the name. The poll found 28 percent saying the Redskins’ name shows disrespect to Native Americans, while 68 percent said it does not. Among those who find the name offensive, 63 percent support changing the name. But among the majority who say the name does not show “any disrespect,” 90 percent support keeping the name.
Convincing the broader public “Redskin” is a racial slur has proven difficult for opponents of the team’s name, and quality data on Native Americans’ attitudes have been scarce. While dozens of Native American organizations and tribes have endorsed a name change, the sports franchise has repeatedly cited a 2004 national survey finding 90 percent of self-identified Native Americans said the name was not offensive. While a recent survey of Powwow attendees in California found far more opposition to the Redskins name and suggested attitudes may have changed, no rigorous survey has tested Native American attitudes on a national level.
For many, a name change is inevitable. Just over half in the ESPN survey, 54 percent, think the Redskins are “very” or “somewhat” likely to keep their name in the coming year, while 42 percent expect a change in that short time frame. The ESPN poll was conducted from Aug. 20 to 24 among a random national sample of 1,019 adults reached on conventional and cellular phones and carries a margin of sampling error of plus or minus three percentage points.
Peyton M. Craighill contributed to this report.