The National Football League team from Washington D.C., known simply as Washington Football Team, announced on Monday that any considerations for its future team name would not include any connections to Native American themes or iconography.
The team was formerly called the Washington Redskins, a derogatory and racist name that many had sought to change for decades before it was announced last year that it would be formally ended. The announcement in June 2020 of the name change came after the police killing of George Floyd, and seven years after team owner Dan Snyder said a name change would never come about.
“We’ll never change the name. It’s that simple. NEVER — you can use caps,” Snyder said in an interview in 2013.
In an open letter sent to fans of the Washington Football Team on Monday, team president Jason Wright said that one consideration for a new name, the Washington Warriors, was now officially out of the question.
“Feedback from across communities we engaged clearly revealed deep-seated discomfort around Warriors, with the clear acknowledgment that it too closely aligns with Native American themes,” Wright said in the letter.
Such an embrace of potentially Native-adjacent iconography and imagery would not represent a clear departure that many communities have so forcefully advocated for us to embrace, and that frankly, we set out to do when we started this process a year ago.
Instead, the team would “choose an identity that unequivocally departs from any use of or approximate linkage to Native American imagery,” Wright said.
Several studies have demonstrated that team names based on racist Native American themes, whether among professional sports leagues or children’s sports leagues, can result in increases in low self-esteem and negative feelings of stress and depression within Native American communities, particularly among Native youth. The American Psychological Association (APA) has called for ending Native American mascot imagery since 2005, not only because such names can cause harm to Indigenous people’s psychological well-being, but also because of harmful attitudes these images can encourage in others.
“The symbols, images and mascots teach non-Indian children that it’s acceptable to participate in culturally abusive behavior and perpetuate inaccurate misconceptions about American Indian culture,” the APA states on its website.
Stephanie Fryberg, a psychology professor at the University of Michigan and member of the Tulalip Tribe, elaborated on that idea further during an interview with Politico in June 2020.
“The only benefit to using Natives as mascots is that we have research showing that whites get a boost in self-esteem,” Fryberg said. “When you think about this both from an equity perspective and when you take the big picture, there’s just no benefit to Native people of keeping Native mascots.”
Other team names have been suggested, including calling the Washington Football Team the Red Tails, a name that would honor the all-Black Tuskegee Airmen who served during World War II. Surviving members of that group of pilots have mixed feelings about that possibility, however.
Last year, surviving member Lt. Col. Harold Brown said “absolutely” when asked about it as a potential name for the team. But Lt. Col. James Harvey was more cautious, saying that he wasn’t sure the team from Washington was “worthy of the Red Tail name.”