• Nayari Vasquez

The Renaming of Offensive Team Names

The renaming of offensive sports names has been an ongoing topic for many years as accusations, mostly brought about by Native Americans, claims that these sports names are derogatory towards their culture. With sports teams like the Washington Football team, formerly known as the Washington Redskins, as well as the baseball team the Atlanta Braves, plenty of people have been discussing the controversy that is the renaming of these sports teams.

The Washington Football team spent a long 87 years under the name of the Redskins, with much pushback from the Indigenous community to change the name. The large controversy over the name change of the Washington team was in part made worse by the Annenberg Report of 2004, which stated that “90% of respondents [self-identified natives] polled said that the name was not offensive”. This report was conducted in Pennsylvania and polled self-identifying indigenous people, meaning that anyone could say they were Native American, which brought the validity of the report into question. Looking back on the long history of the team, the refusal to change the team name was very apparent. In 2013, Daniel Synder, the owner of the team expressed, “We’ll never change the name. It’s that simple. NEVER — you can use caps”. However, after the murder of George Floyd, the media and the American people began to call out injustices where ever they saw fit. Thus, people put pressure on the team and everyone involved with them to change the name. In July of 2020 investors, that together added up to more than $620 billion, sent letters to Nike, Pepsi, and FedEx, calling on them to stop sponsoring the Washington team. In response, Nike pulled the Washington team’s gear from it’s website and FedEx, who owns the naming rights to the franchise’s stadium, formally asked that the team change their name. In return the team changed its name to the Washington Football team.

In July of 2020, after the change of the Washington team name, many were wondering if the Atlanta Braves would consider doing the same. In a letter to season ticket holders the team stated “We will always be the Atlanta Braves...Through our conversations, changing the name of the Braves is not under consideration or deemed necessary”. After the death of Hank Aaron, legendary right fielder for the Braves, loads of people suggested that the team name be changed to the Atlanta Hammers to commemorate Aaron as his nickname was “Hammer” or “Hammerin’ Hank”. However the team did not carry out this request.

At first the term “redskin” was a popular term to use while trading with people from Europe, however the term soon took on a negative connotation with the genocide of the Native people. Europeans began to use the term as a derogatory slur and that is what it has been ever since. As for the Braves, the term is a way to identify Native Americans but it has never been a name that the Native community has been okay with. To put it simply, Natives don’t want to be mascots as it dehumanizes and impairs indigenous communities.

In the history of the Native American mascot controversy, there have been many sports teams that were not listed above that are seen as offensive. Those include the Chicago Blackhawks, the Cleveland Indians, the Kansas City Chiefs, the Edmonton Eskimos and many others. The simple idea that these derogatory names for Natives are in the same category as animals when it comes to mascots is another reason why Indigenous communities are upset. Native Americans are one of the most disenfranchised people in the United States, but they are also one of the proudest. They are not your mascots nor do they want to be. Although this article only discussed the names of professional sports teams, the characterization of native people is prevalent in many institutionalized names and buildings ranging from high school mascots to community parks. The need for recognition and change is urgent as we seek to right where they have been wronged. With all that the Native American community has gone through at the hands of others, let this not be another barrier towards equity any longer.

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