Quarterback Robert Griffin III has brought the Redskins — and questions about their name — back into the national spotlight.
Panelists at Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian engaged in a daylong discussion Feb. 7 about racist stereotypes in American sports. During the event, panelists criticized Native-American mascots and team names, including the Washington Redskins, as demeaning.
The debate over changing the Redskins’ name has lasted decades, and in 2009, the Supreme Court rejected a petition for the dismissal of the Redskins trademark.
Many of the event’s panelists are from Native-American backgrounds and they used images and cartoons in their presentations to promote cultural understanding.
One panelist, E. Newton Jackson, who is a professor of sport management at the University of North Florida, spoke about the difficulty of changing public opinion. Jackson grew up in Washington and said while he loves the football team, he doesn’t call them by name.
“How do we get to the other place where we understand each other a little better, that Native Americans are not a mascot?” he asked the crowd. “… It’s the tough dialogue that must occur in the schools, among each other.”
The panelists agreed that progress with removing Native-American stereotypes has to continue with young people.
“For change to occur, it requires the dominant group to be supportive and encouraging in participating,” Jackson said in the panel. “For change to occur, it requires the dominant group to buy in, which eventually gets media support and exposure to others. “
Anjana Rao, a senior neuroscience major at Smith College in Northampton, Mass., agreed that it is time for the Redskins to change their name.
“Personally, I find it offensive,” she said. “It refers to Native-American skin color as red, like calling Asians ‘yellow’ is offensive.”
The NCAA banned the use of Native-American imagery and nicknames at postseason tournaments in 2005, with the exception of some teams with support of the tribes, such as the Florida State Seminoles.
This past week, students at Cooperstown High School in upstate New York voted to replace their “Redskins” nickname. The school is considering several name changes, including “Deerslayers,” “Hawkeyes” and “Pathfinders.”
However, Lauren McMillion and Will Barron, both senior sociology majors at Salisbury University in Salisbury, Md., do not consider the Redskins team name a racial slur.
“I don’t think it’s any more offensive than having the Fighting Irish as a mascot, or Vikings or pirates,” McMillion said. “A mascot is generally something a team and their fans respect. I don’t think that the Redskins represent Native Americans distastefully.“
Barron, a life-long Redskins fan, said he thinks that those calling for a name change are being too sensitive about the issue.
“[The mascot] is supposed to be a symbol of strength, so I don’t think their name intends any negative connotation,” he said, but added he would have to consider a Native American’s opinion.
Sameer Malla, a senior geography and meteorology major at the University of Maryland, said he thinks the name is offensive because the term “Redskin” makes fun of the skin color of Native Americans. But, he believes the team’s name is part of tradition and should not be changed.
“The term ‘Redskins’ is quite offensive, but the nickname has been there for nearly a century, so for people to bring up the derogatory name again just for the sake of a name-change is quite unnecessary,” he said.
Team owner Dan Snyder has said the Redskins name and mascot is meant to honor Native Americans, and is not supposed to promote negative stereotypes, but the panelists urged for conversations to continue between all groups to see all sides of the issue.
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