Why It Took So Long To Change Washington Redskins’ Name and What the Delay Depicts About American Culture

For nearly more than two decades, fans, the management, and the owners of the Washington Redskin team have fearlessly resisted pressure to change the team’s name. Over the past two decades, the team received support from most fans, including even the Native Americans, the owners, NFL Commissioner, and the management to continue using the name “Redskins” despite the controversy, explaining the reason for the delay in change the name.

Supporters have always cited that the name “Redskins” is an honor for the virtues and achievements of the Native Americans and that it does not imply a negative connotation. The former president of the team, Brue Allen, at one point asserted that the name “Redskins” has also been adopted by some high school teams, some of which have Native American students as the majority. Some supporters have also maintained that most Native Americans have never considered the name negative, rather a show of solidarity. In a letter addressed to the United States Senate, dated May 23th, 2014, and titled “The Truth about Redskins’ Name and Logo,” former team’s president Brue Allen asserted that the term Redskins originated as a Native American expression of solidarity (Brue Allen) and that it reflects a more positive aspect of the relationship between the whites and Indians.

According to Allen, the name has been used for over 80 years to represent respect towards the achievements, traditions, and the proud legacy of the Native Americans. He also cited that most Native Americans are okay with the name according to the survey by the respected “Annenberg Public Policy Center” of the University of Pennsylvania. The majority of the survey respondents, 90%, stated that the name is not offensive. Also, the Associated Press national survey shows that 83% of the Americans support keeping the name (Brue Allen). Such arguments have rendered the quests to change the team’s name to deaf ears for over three decades.

The resistance to change the Washington Redskins’ name and the overwhelming support the team received from the majority of fans, including Native Americans, according to the surveys by “Annenberg Public Policy Center” and “Associated Press,” expresses the love of sport entrenched in American culture. It also depicts the value Americans attach to cultural history. History has it that the Washington Redskins’ club name was inspired by founder George Preston Marshall’s desire to bring back the “Indian Football” to the National Football League before 1933. The Indian football was a brand of early 20th-century football, customarily played by Native Americans. Research shows that only a handful of examples of Native American names were attached to the sporting landscape by 1933 (Gordon Hylton 3), a factor that could have inspired Marshall’s naming decision.

The fact that the name “Redskins” is deeply rooted in the Native American’s history of sports culture and the love for sport among the Americans could have explained why the use of the name received wider support from the Americans, including Native Americans, despite opposition by a fraction of the society. The love for sport among the Americans superseded the perceived racial impact caused by the name. Simultaneously, the attachment between the team’s name and the Native American’s history of sports, including the popularity of “Indian football” in the 20th century, psychologically made many Native Americans see nothing wrong with the name despite its claimed displays of racial connotation.


Works Cited

Brue Allen. The Washington Redskins. 2014.

Gordon Hylton. Why Did The Washington Redskins Choose The Name “Redskins” In The First Place, Rather Than Some Other Native American Name? Marquette University Law School Faculty. 2014.