ALJASSAR: The name game

An open letter to Redskins owner Dan Snyder

Mr. Snyder, it’s time to change the name of the Redskins organization.

This would not be the first time that a professional sports franchise in your city has changed its name out of sensitivity for its audience. The Washington Wizards, formerly the Washington Bullets, underwent a name change in 1997 after owner Abe Pollin sought to eliminate violent associations attached to the team name. Pollin’s name change, occurring in light of the capital’s high homicide and crime rates, expresses common decency and an abhorrence of gun violence in the Washington community.

I ask that you extend a similar courtesy to the American Indian community, a segment of the American population that is marginalized by the Redskins moniker. Given the term’s well-established history as a racial epithet used to denigrate humans of a different race, you must consider rebranding the Redskins organization. Nasty ethnic slurs should not be brought to a level of normalcy through professional sports.

Along with your adamant opposition to a name change, you refuse to acknowledge the potentially damaging effects of the Redskins name. In 2005, the American Psychological Association (APA) recommended an end to all American Indian mascots, citing research that demonstrates that the continued use of stereotypical American Indian personalities in sports harms “the social identity development and self-esteem of American Indian young people.” This isn’t a trivial controversy manufactured by the political correctness police. There are real repercussions that result from the casual racism perpetuated by your franchise’s name.

Cultural and social psychologist Dr. Stephanie Fryberg of the University of Arizona conducted a 2008 study in which she concluded that American Indian mascots have negative psychological consequences on American Indians. Fryberg writes: “American Indian mascots are harmful because they remind American Indians of the limited ways others see them and, in this way, constrain how they can see themselves.”

Identity construction is not an exclusively individual process. Cultural representations of American Indians through caricatured mascots — or, worse, ethnophaulisms such as “redskin” — are inimical to American Indian identity construction, particularly because there are few alternative, more positive characterizations of American Indians. Mr. Snyder, you defend your mascot name and refer to it as a “badge of honor”, but there is nothing honorable about presenting a single story of American Indians as red-skinned savages.

Defenders of the Redskins name such as you often cite polls suggesting that American Indians are not offended by the moniker. The issue with such polls is that many are unreasonably unscientific, relying upon survey methodologies that are littered with errors. You have, in the past, referred to a 2004 poll from the Annenberg Public Policy Center as evidence that American Indians do not find your team’s name offensive; however, it’s important to note that the poll’s survey methodology included no questions determining respondents’ tribal membership or citizenship. We aren’t sure who was polled or if the respondents belonged to American Indian tribes.

What we are sure about is a large number of American Indian tribes and organizations have passed resolutions or issued statements declaring their opposition to your team’s name. Among them is Oneida Indian Nation, a tribe headquartered in New York that has launched a national Change the Mascot campaign. Even the mayor of your city has expressed interested in changing the Redskins name.

There’s no doubt that if your organization were created today, nobody would seriously consider the Redskins name. Mr. Snyder, please rename the Redskins.

Nazar Aljassar is an Opinion Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. His columns run Fridays.

related stories