Washington NFL team kicks out R-word

Indian Country Today

Updated: ‘A long journey and many sacrifices’ leading to the scrapping of racist name and logo

Aliyah Chavez and Kolby KickingWoman
Indian Country Today

The Washington NFL franchise announced Monday it is retiring its team name and logo, a fight Native activists have been leading for decades.

The franchise is developing a new name and design under the direction of team owner Dan Snyder and head coach Ron Rivera.

“On July 3rd, we announced the commencement of a thorough review of the team’s name,” the team said in a statement. “Today we are announcing we will be retiring the (deleted) name and logo upon completion of this review.”

The team gave no timeline on when a new name and logo will be released. Spokesman Sean DeBarbieri told Indian Country Today in an email, "We won’t be commenting until the full process has been completed."

The fight to change Native-themed mascots began in the 1970s and has since been largely led by Native women including Suzan Harjo, Hodulgee Muscogee and Cheyenne. It was carried into 2020 with the help of Amanda Blackhorse, Diné, Crystal Echo Hawk, Pawnee, and many others.

(Related: ‘Today, we celebrate; tomorrow our fight continues’)

Harjo, after hearing the news, rang praise for those who fought for the change over the years, saying it was brought about by Native people and allies and should not be attributed “to a change of heart by the team’s energy.”

“We’ve ended more than two-thirds of these obscenities and now have only 900 or so left to go, but the fall of this king of the mountain of trash will help others to give up their ghosts of racism even faster, so, Aho, Mr. Snyder and thank you, Mvto, Mr. Fred Smith,” Harjo said in a statement.

She said news outlets need to stop printing the racial slur in headlines and story text.

“Shame on them,” Harjo said. “We have eliminated over two-thirds, that's over two thousand of these [Native mascots] from the landscape of American sports, and that is a societal sea change.”

She continued to say she was happy to see the racist Washington mascot fall to the wayside, but there is still work to do. Harjo described the Washington mascot as the “king of the racist mascot mountain” and expects more teams to drop their names in the near future.

“What we are demanding though, are these vestiges of that racist history, and that includes all of these mascots and names, whether they're racist stereotypes or whether they're cultural appropriation, we want them all gone from American sports,” she said. “We were not going to be the recreation, the entertainment. We're not going to be dancing for the white man anymore. That's the end of that.”

Blackhorse took to Twitter to share her reaction.

“Its been a long journey and many sacrifices have been made,” Blackhorse tweeted. “Rest in Power George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery & many others. #BlackLivesMatter! We still need justice for Breonna Taylor! Thank you #BLM for creating awareness, this means so much to Indigenous ppl!”

Fans of the team shared their reactions, too.

Some posted pictures wearing jerseys and other apparel with captions including “one last time.” Others noted "today marks history" and said they were saddened but excited for a fresh start.

The Washington football team's quarterback also took to Twitter to share his thoughts. Dwayne Haskins played high school football just outside Washington, D.C., in Potomac, Maryland.

“As a kid who grew up in the dmv [District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia] it’ll always be #HTTR but looking forward to the future,” Haskins tweeted.

In 2013, Snyder told USA Today Sports, “We'll never change the name. It's that simple. NEVER — you can use caps.”

(Related: Why Washington? 12 stories that explain)

(Related: Reactions to the Washington team name retirement)

President Donald Trump suggested in a July 6 tweet that Native people would be upset with the name change.

On Monday, his press secretary, Kayleigh McEnany, doubled down on the president’s thinking during a press briefing. McEnany cited a debunked Washington Post poll from 2016 that said 90 percent of Natives were not offended by the team name.

In the years since that poll was released, new studies have come out that show Native people are “deeply insulted” by the team name.

Pressure in 2020 began mounting as George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis spurred the crashing of racist symbols of all kinds across the country, including the Washington NFL franchise.

On June 26, a group of 88 investors representing more than $620 billion in assets sent an open letter to FedEx, Nike and PepsiCo calling for them to terminate business and public relationships with the team until the racist team name is changed.

Shortly after, the franchise said it would undergo a “thorough review of the team’s name.”

Here is a breakdown of recent events leading to Monday's announcement:

June 26, 2020:

  • A group of 88 investors sends a letter to FedEx, Nike and PepsiCo calling for the termination of business and public relationships with the team until racist team name is changed

(Related: Washington NFL team name is the ‘equivalent of the Confederate flag’)

July 3, 2020:

  • The Washington football team officially announces it will undergo a “thorough review” of its team name and mascot
  • Nike pulls Washington NFL franchise gear from website
  • Walmart discontinues sales of all items promoting the Washington team’s logo

July 6, 2020:

  • Target pulls Washington NFL team gear from its website
  • 14 Native leaders and organizations pen a letter to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell asking him to require the team to “immediately change” its name
  • President Donald Trump tweets support of Washington NFL team, writing: “They name teams out of STRENGTH, not weakness, but now the Washington (deleted) & Cleveland Indians, two fabled sports franchises, look like they are going to be changing their names in order to be politically correct. Indians, like Elizabeth Warren, must be very angry right now!”

July 8, 2020:

  • Amazon notifies sellers Washington NFL team gear will need to be removed within 48 hours

July 13, 2020:

  • Snyder announces the retirement of racist mascot. The new team name will be announced at another date.

As for other Native-themed mascots in professional sports, there are mixed reports on whether similar changes are pending.

On Sunday, the Atlanta Braves said it is not changing its name but is looking at its controversial tomahawk chop celebration, according to ESPN. The Cleveland professional baseball team is also considering a name change. The team removed its Chief Wahoo logo in 2019.

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Aliyah Chavez, Kewa Pueblo, and Kolby KickingWoman, Blackfeet/A'aniih, are reporters/producers for Indian Country Today. Follow Chavez on Twitter: @aliyahjchavez or email her at achavez@indiancountrytoday.com. Follow KickingWoman on Twitter: @KDKW_406. Email: kkickingwoman@indiancountrytoday.com. 

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