Obama open to name change for Washington Redskins
By Julie Pace
Obama, in an interview with The Associated Press, said team names such as the Redskins offend "a sizable group of people." He said that while fans get attached to the names, nostalgia may not be a good enough reason to keep them in place.
"I don't know whether our attachment to a particular name should override the real legitimate concerns that people have about these things," he said in the interview, which was conducted Friday at the White House.
An avid sports fan who roots for his hometown Chicago Bears, Obama said he doesn't think Washington football fans are purposely trying to offend American Indians. "I don't want to detract from the wonderful Redskins fans that are here. They love their team and rightly so," he said.
But he appeared to come down on the side of those who have sharply criticized the football team's name, noting that Indians "feel pretty strongly" about mascots and team names that depict negative stereotypes about their heritage.
Harjo said the issue "involves lots of hurt and pain and ongoing name-calling and bullying of our children that goes with this name. We just need to have an end to it."
"There's no such thing as a good stereotype, no matter how well-intentioned, no matter how good people feel about it," Harjo added. "It still has negative ramifications for our people."
"These are relics of the past. They should be consigned to museums and history books and people can feel good about them there," she said. "But they should not be allowed in polite society."
Opponents of the Redskins name plan to hold a symposium Monday at the Washington hotel hosting the NFL's fall meeting.
"We really appreciate the president underscoring what we've been saying," said Ray Halbritter, leader of the Oneida Indian Nation, a tribe from upstate New York that's been campaigning against the name. "There's just no place for a professional football team to be using what the dictionary defines as a racially offensive term."
A Redskins lawyer responses to Obama:
Obama: If I were Snyder, I’d think about changing Redskins’ name
“We at the Redskins respect everyone. But like devoted fans of the Atlanta Braves, the Cleveland Indians and the Chicago Blackhawks (from President Obama’s home town), we love our team and its name and, like those fans, we do not intend to disparage or disrespect a racial or ethnic group. The name ‘Washington Redskins’ is 80 years old–it’s our history and legacy and tradition. We Redskins fans sing ‘hail to the Redskins’ every Sunday as a word of honor not disparagement.”
Braves on the warpath!
Fight for Old D.C.!
Scalp 'em, swamp 'um
We will take 'um big score
Read 'um, Weep 'um, touchdown
We want heap more
Activists to #Redskins defenders: Yes, we know ethnic slurs have a long tradition. Is "long tradition" your whole argument, or what? #racism
Yes, #Redskins defenders, we know what the dubious polls say. As with legal rights, we're not putting an ethnic slur up for a popular vote.
#Redskins fans argue the ethnic slur has been around a long time, and the ethnic slur doesn't offend most people. Key point: ETHNIC SLUR.
Not a big deal?
A couple of people on Facebook thought this development wasn't that big--perhaps because Obama doesn't influence NFL policy directly. This led to a debate with one of them.
Obama's speaking on this is huge. As when he spoke on gay marriage, it signals to the public and the media that this is a serious issue. That it's not just some tiny minority of do-gooders advocating "political correctness."
His stance encourages everyone to think and talk about it--to debate it in public and in the media. It encourages fence-sitters to rethink their apathy, apply their liberal principles, and take a stand similar to his. In short, it provides a big push to public pressure--and that pressure is what will persuade Dan Snyder and the NFL to cave.
I don't think many people will go from anti-Redskins to pro-Redskins because they hate Obama. Redskins fandom probably includes all the racists in the area already.
What may change is the views of liberals, especially minority liberals, in the DC area. If they start turning against the team, Snyder will have a real debate on his hands. Not a trivial little protest that he can ignore.
Again, Obama's coming out on gay marriage is a great parallel. Nobody turned against gays because they didn't like Obama. Obama haters were already gay haters, I'm sure.
But Obama's talk about his evolving position freed up "mental" space for others to evolve also. And that means more people supporting gays and opposing the Redskins. As the numbers continue to shift, the team and the NFL will have to take notice.
In short, I don't think there's anything on the local level that's going to sway Snyder and the team. It's going to take national pressure on the advertisers to amount to any real trouble. So I think the Variety article is really a bigger deal than Obama.
Times are changing
When the US president, a Congressional letter, Variety, major newspapers, etc. speak out, they're the tip of the iceberg. As with gay marriage, Obama doesn't take a position unless he and his advisers have seen which way the wind is blowing. he isn't leading public opinion, he's reflecting it. He's summing up what he's hearing from the sports, media, business, and political worlds.
As for the advertisers, nobody has to carry signs in front of their HQs for them to get the message--although that wouldn't hurt. The public is turning against the Redskins, which is why Obama felt comfortable speaking out. Advertisers don't want to associate with anything perceived as controversial or unpopular--not to mention racist. So the pressure is already building on them--and Snyder--behind the scenes.
In short, as I tweeted:
Indian mascots = gay marriage. When the president says we should reconsider the issue, it's headed rapidly toward a tipping point. #Redskins