The back-and-forth continues regarding the only NFL team name that has sparked a reasonable debate as to whether the name should change.
Earlier this week, 50 Senators sent a letter urging the NFL “to formally support and push for a name change for the Washington football team.” On Friday, the Redskins responded with a letter from G.M. Bruce Allen to Senator Harry Reid.
While addressed to Reid, the letter targets a much different audience. Allen hopes to give supporters of the team’s name ammunition for any arguments that may come up at Memorial Day weekend get-togethers, and also to persuade any of the shrinking group of undecideds to see things the team’s way.
Nothing contained in Allen’s letter will influence Reid or any other opponents of the name to change their position, in part because most of what Allen writes already has been said.
First, Allen explains that the term “Redskins” originated as a Native American expression of solidarity. Second, Allen explains that the team’s logo was designed by Native Americans. (The contention that the logo was designed and approved by Native Americans has been contested by one of the Native American groups that supposedly was involved.) Third, Allen explains that an “overwhelming majority of Native Americans do not find the name offensive,” citing a 10-year-old poll that shows nine percent of Native Americans believe the term is offensive. (His letter doesn’t cite a January 2014 poll, previously touted by the team, which as we explained at the time actually shows a dramatically accelerated erosion of support for the name.)
Fourth, Allen claims that the “vast majority of Americans are in favor of keeping the name,” citing an Associated Press poll that says 83 percent of Americans are in favor of keeping the team’s name (which means 17 percent don’t, which hardly means that a “vast majority” supports the name). Fifth, and finally, Allen cites the team’s recent efforts, launched in the aftermath of the framing of the debate regarding the team’s name, to “[make] a difference for Native Americans through our Washington Redskins Original Americans Foundation.”
None of this changes the fact that, at some point within the past year, the NFL and the franchise have conceded that reasonable minds may differ on whether the name constitutes a slur. The question becomes whether the NFL wants to continue to tolerate, indefinitely into the future, circumstances where one of the league’s 32 teams carries a name about which a reasonable debate exists as to whether the name is offensive.
Allen’s letter seems to backtrack on the notion that reasonable minds may differ, and that some may be legitimately offended by the name. Allen’s letter instead seems to be intent on proving that the team’s position is right, and that those opposed to the name are wrong.
None of this will quiet those who are opposed to the name. If anything, efforts to tell them that they’re wrong will serve only to embolden the opposition, ensuring that it will continue until the day the name changes.
With 50 Senators simultaneously calling on the league to change the name, it’s hard not to think that day is coming sooner than anyone may have imagined. It seems like the team plans to delay the inevitable as long as possible by regurgitating the same arguments that have done nothing to slow the growth of a movement that, if the name doesn’t change, eventually will no longer represent a minority view.