Kolby KickingWoman
Indian Country Today

The Washington Football Team is moving on from any connection to a Native-themed mascot, according to an announcement Monday. The announcement comes nearly one year to the day of retiring the previous racist Native-themed mascot.

No, a new name was not selected but team president Jason Wright wrote in a blog post on the team’s official website that a short list of team names remain, and the new name and team logo will not have any linkage to Native imagery or iconography.

“We've made significant changes in our organization and our culture, and our new name must reflect these changes,” Wright wrote. “To that end, we will choose an identity that unequivocally departs from any use of or approximate linkage to Native American imagery.”

Although he wasn’t in his current position when the decision to change the name was made, Wright wrote that it is the right thing to do. Wright was one of the first hires after the name change announcement last summer and is the first African-American team president in league history. Olympic gold medalist Jim Thorpe, Sac and Fox and Potawatomi, was the first president of the league, known then as the American Professional Football Association.

Washington NFL team. (Graphic by Tomás Karmelo Amaya, Indian Country Today)

The process in finding a new team name has included surveying fans and season ticket holders, but an emphasis was placed on “listening and learning from Native American leaders and individuals throughout the country.”

“This process has exposed to us the very deeply-held personal feelings about our previous imagery and association — and not just the simple, easy-to-categorize ‘who's for or who's against’ polling of our old name, but research revealing the psychological effects of Native American team names on American Indian and Alaska Native youth,” Wright said.

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Amanda Blackhorse, Diné, and Suzan Shown Harjo, Cheyenne and Hodulgee Muscogee, have long been on the front lines fighting Native-themed mascots and specifically the Washington Football team.

Harjo said it is never too late to do the right thing, although this is “way late.”

Both women believe the team could have saved a lot of people, a lot of time had they made this decision years or even decades ago.

“I think it is the right thing to do,” Harjo said on the phone about the announcement. “It's the right thing to do because they've done the wrong thing since the mid 1930s.”

The first step in the process was moving on from the name and while today is welcome news, Blackhorse said the team has a lot more to make up to Indian Country for the harm they’ve caused through the years.

“Well I am glad to see that they are aware that their name and their franchise, and their logo and everything has caused harm to Native people,” Blackhorse told Indian Country Today. “The next step that they need to take is to clean up their mess throughout Indian Country.” 

Wright thanked the tribal leaders who engaged and shared their stories throughout the process.

“I am personally and deeply grateful for the Native American community leaders who engaged with us, sharing painful, raw and real stories that persist to this day,” he said. “Their stories affirmed our decision to move in a new direction in the creation of our new name and identity, and we are proudly forging ahead in this journey with a promise to our community — a promise to continue to be inclusive in our process and collaborative with our fans.”

One name option that tribal leaders and “Change the Name” advocates were hoping the team would avoid was the name, “Warriors.”

Wright addressed that going the “Warriors” route could have been “harmless transition” but learned through the consultation process that would not have gone far enough is departing from the old moniker.

“Feedback from across communities we engaged clearly revealed deep-seated discomfort around Warriors, with the clear acknowledgment that it too closely aligns with Native American themes,” he said. “Such an embrace of potentially Native-adjacent iconography and imagery would not represent a clear departure that many communities have so forcefully advocated for us to embrace, and that frankly, we set out to do when we started this process a year ago.”

Some fans on social media joked that the team has already found its new name and should stay the “Washington Football Team.”

That will be the case for at least the upcoming season.

Harjo, for one, is someone who likes the name as the “Washington Football Team,” and has long noticed an “amazing coincidence” as it relates to the team’s success.

“I love it that they named it the Washington football team, which we've been calling it ever since we filed suit [against the team] in 1992,” Harjo said. “I think that they may go on to regain the kind of greatness that they once had. I love this, they have not gone to a Super Bowl since we filed suit in 1992. It's an amazing coincidence, just an amazing coincidence.”

As a final decision nears on the new direction of franchise under a new name, Write said team leadership will continue to seek insight from key stakeholders.

“We will continue to rely upon the insight and support of many of you as it moves forward to a final decision,” Wright said. “As a team, we are confident that our new brand identity will honor our legacy and lead us into our future as a franchise.”

For many, Monday morning’s news was long overdue and celebrated the win.

Rebrand Washington Football, a non-Native organization that has long been an ally in the fight against Native-themed mascots, said in a press release that the announcement is a culmination of that long fight.

“This is the best possible outcome going forward,” said Ian Washburn, one of the organization’s co-founders. “No more Native-themed mascots is the best policy.”

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