What's in a name? A lot if we're talking Native American mascots - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

What's in a name? A lot if we're talking Native American mascots

This poster, created in 2001, is making the rounds on the internet as debate about changing the Washington Redskins name continues to heat up. (Source: Devito/verdi) This poster, created in 2001, is making the rounds on the internet as debate about changing the Washington Redskins name continues to heat up. (Source: Devito/verdi)
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(RNN) - While politicians in Washington, DC, the last couple of weeks have been fighting about the country's financial status, the city's most recognizable sports franchise is engaged in a social war with people unhappy about its nickname.

The Washington Redskins remain one of the few teams - pro or amateur - to never consider amending a brand name and image modeled after a caricature of Native Americans.

The conversation about making logos depicting Native Americans more neutral or changing them altogether has been ongoing for several years. But the controversy surrounding Washington's NFL team stirred even more in May when owner Daniel Snyder told a USA Today reporter that he could print in all caps that Washington would never change its name.

In a letter to season ticket holders that was published Oct. 9, Snyder reinforced that his position had not changed, although he used milder language than before.

He talked about going to his first game at RFK Stadium, singing Hail to the Redskins in celebration and connecting with the fans' shared passions for the team. He quoted a retired Virginia tribal chief who said the branding of an NFL team was the least worrisome of things that had been done regarding Native people in this country.

Snyder also cited two polls - one by the Annenberg Policy Center and another by the Associated Press - that leaned heavily in favor of keeping the name. The latter showed the majority of 1,000 self-identified Native Americans who were asked did not find the team name offensive.

The National Congress of American Indians [NCAI], which claims to be the oldest and most representative organization of American Natives, found disparities in the AP poll Snyder cited and published them in an October 2013 report dealing with Native American mascots in sports. Of the people asked, 65 percent were white, 70 percent considered their views conservative to moderate and 56 percent were professional football fans, the organization found.

"Two percent said they were American Indian/Alaska Native, but they were not asked whether they were citizens of tribal nations, or if they spoke a Native language or needed a translator," the report stated.

There has been no shortage of polls sampling people from all walks of life, and the responses have varied.

A Washington Post poll conducted recently showed 57 percent of people do not believe Washington should change its name - a 4 percent drop from people who were asked that question in June.

The Post acknowledged in its June polling that while support for the team was high among people asked, most felt redskin was an inappropriate term for Native Americans.

It's indicative of the struggle between supporting a decades-old team symbol and supporting a term that could offend a large population.

Another recent poll that the Oneida Indian Nation conducted showed 59 percent of people in Washington, DC, said Native Americans have the right to feel offended by the term redskin. In the same poll, 55 percent of people said a name change to the team would not affect their support.

A protest poster from more than a decade ago recently resurfaced and caught people's attention as it has gone viral on the internet.

It shows the real Cleveland Indians logo - known as Chief Wahoo - next to fake baseball caps that portray stereotypical images of Asians and Jews. The team has since tried to distance itself from the logo.

The NCAI commissioned the New York marketing firm of Devito/verdi to create the poster in 2001.

The firm has a history of molding pointedly sharp advertising for a wide range of causes and products - from political ads to alcoholic beverages.

Company owner Ellis Verdi was as straightforward and simple as the poster when explaining how his team developed it.

"Demonstrating the point is an effective means of communicating," Verdi said in an email.

Protests against the use of the term redskins have come in a variety of ways.

A bevy of media organizations have outright refused to use Washington's nickname - including the Kansas City Star, Washington City Paper, Slate and Mother Jones, as well as individual reporters from larger news groups.

President Barack Obama, whose office sits some 14 miles from FedEx Field where the Redskins play, also weighed in on the issue during an interview with the Associated Press in early October.

"If I were the owner of the team and I knew that the name of my team - even if they've had a storied history - was offending a sizable group of people, I'd think about changing it," Obama said.

Copyright 2013 Raycom News Network. All rights reserved.

  • Do you think the Washington Redskins should change their nickname?

  • Thank you for participating in our poll. Here are the results so far:

    Yes
    14%
    125 votes
    No
    74%
    672 votes
    I don't care
    12%
    108 votes
  • Should the Washington Redskins change their name?

  • Thank you for participating in our poll. Here are the results so far:

    Yes
    15%
    226 votes
    No
    83%
    1294 votes
    Undecided
    2%
    36 votes
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