A Famous Washington Sports Team to Change Its Name

13 July 2020

The professional American football team in Washington, D.C. announced Monday it will retire the name "Redskins" and the mascot of a Native American.

The team has not selected a new name. But it dropped the name, given to the team since 1933, after years of protests. Critics say the name is offensive to Native Americans.

Ray Halbritter is leading the campaign against the offensive name. He praised the National Football League (NFL) and the team's owner, Dan Snyder. He said, "I know that's not an easy thing to do, but it was the right thing to do."

FILE - The Washington Redskins logo is shown on the field before the start of a preseason NFL football game against the New England Patriots in Landover, Md.
FILE - The Washington Redskins logo is shown on the field before the start of a preseason NFL football game against the New England Patriots in Landover, Md.

The announcement comes as major sponsors have asked the team to change its name. One of those sponsors is FedEx. The shipping company paid for its name to be used in connection with the team's stadium, which is in Landover, Maryland.

The company paid $205 million in 1999 for the right to name the stadium. In addition, the sports company Nike and other companies say they have withdrawn products linked to the team. The move could cost the team millions of dollars. Other companies requesting a change in the team's name include food company PepsiCo and Bank of America.

In addition, the Associated Press reported that 15 Native American leaders and organizations wrote to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell last week. They demanded that the team immediately end the use of the name, Redskins.

The groups and individuals said they expect the NFL to become involved in a "meaningful reconciliation process." The Native American movement leaders, tribes and organizations said they want the sports organization to repair years of, what they called, "emotional violence" and other harms that the "team name has caused to Native Peoples."

The AP says the letter was sent on the same day that President Donald Trump tweeted about two sports teams with Native American mascots. Trump said the Washington Redskins and the Cleveland Indians baseball team "look like they are going to be changing their names in order to be politically correct."

The Washington team is among the oldest professional football teams in the United States having been in operation since the 1930s.

A spirited debate over the name "Redskins" has gone on for many years. Team owner Dan Snyder has resisted changing the name since he bought the team in 1999.

Among professional sports teams, the Cleveland Indians removed the Chief Wahoo image from their official uniform after the 2018 season. Major League Baseball's Atlanta Braves and the National Hockey League's Chicago Blackhawks have said they have no plans to change their names.

Supporters of the change, however, would like to see all Native American names, mascots and image out of sports. "Our fight continues," Crystal Echo Hawk said. She noted that her group, IllumiNative, wanted all names, mascots and images of Native Americans removed from professional, collegiate and other school sports.

Sports teams that have removed Native American mascots have mainly been linked to universities and colleges. Stanford University in California says it officially changed its mascot from the "Indian" to the "Cardinal" in 1972.

More recently, the University of Illinois removed Chief Illiniwek as its official mascot in 2007 although its sports teams are still called the Fighting Illini. The word Illini is meant to describe Native American people and is tied to the name of the state of Illinois.

Halbritter said it was important to note some names are not offensive. He pointed out that Florida State University spoke with the Seminole tribe about its name.

"I think it's striking that the NFL and other owners of other sports teams don't have a conversation with Native America on these names," Halbritter said. "It's about respect, and I don't understand why they just don't have a conversation with the affected people."

I'm Mario Ritter, Jr.

The Associated Press reported this story. Mario Ritter Jr. adapted it for VOA Learning English. Hai Do was the editor.


Words in This Story

sponsor –n. a person or group that pays money in return for the right to advertise during an event or activity

reconciliation –n. the act or process of getting two groups to become friendly after a disagreement or argument

mascot –n. a person, animal or object that represents an organization, such as a sports team or school, and that is meant to bring good luck

uniform –n. special clothing that is worn by all members of an organization such as an armed service, police, profession or sports team