Opponents of the Washington Redskins name struggled to justify their opposition Thursday after an independent poll showed that fully 90 percent of American Indians surveyed said the name doesn’t offend them.
The results of the survey of 504 American Indians by The Washington Post were identical to those of a 2004 Annenberg Public Policy Center poll, meaning that a decade’s worth of advocacy by top progressives and media outlets against the Redskins name has moved the needle not a whit.
Still, those who find the name offensive said Thursday they still find the name offensive even if the people affected by it do not.
“The vast majority of Americans would never dream of calling a Native American the R-word,” said Rep. Betty McCollum, Minnesota Democrat, an outspoken critic of the Redskins name. “With racist roots directly linked to the genocide of Native Americans, it is just as hurtful and ugly as the N-word — especially for Native youth.”
The implication was that even if 90 percent of Indians are not offended by the name, they should be.
“This is like, ‘Who are you to tell Native Americans what they should be offended by?’” said Michael Smith, host of ESPN’s “His & Hers.” “I can read the dictionary. It’s a slur. Simple, plain, point-blank. It’s a slur.”
The poll also found that 7 in 10 of those surveyed said they did not think the term disrespectful, and that 8 in 10 would not be offended if a non-Indian called them the name. The poll included American Indians from all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
The survey drew cheers from fans of the Redskins name, led by Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder, who has been embroiled since 2014 in a legal battle over the Obama administration’s decision to cancel trademark protection for the name on the grounds that it is “disparaging” to a “substantial composite of Native Americans.”
“The Washington Redskins team, our fans and community have always believed our name represents honor, respect, and pride,” said Mr. Snyder in a statement. “Today’s Washington Post polling shows Native Americans agree. We are gratified by this overwhelming support from the Native American community and the team will proudly carry the Redskins name.”
Mr. Hill said Mr. Snyder’s reaction may have been the worst part about the poll.
“You hate when Dan Snyder gets to puff out his chest and say, ‘See, I told you so,’” he said.
“Now the bigger issue, though, is the trademark registration case that continues to go because now Dan Snyder has this to hang his hat on and say, ‘Look, give me back my trademark because, again, it’s not really offensive to the people to whom we’re referring,’” Mr. Smith said.
Outrage over the Redskins name has prompted a flurry of legal initiatives. California became the first state to ban the Redskins name and mascot for public schools in 2015. In 2005 the NCAA ordered colleges to get rid of their Indian names, mascots and imagery, with the narrow exception of the few schools such as the Florida State Seminoles that have received the tribe’s blessing.
Several NFL broadcasters, including CBS lead analyst Phil Simms, have said they will not use the Redskins name during games.
Advocacy groups calling for the team to drop the Redskins name downplayed the significance of the poll. Change the Mascot said the survey only proved that Native Americans are “resilient.”
“The results of this poll confirm a reality that is encouraging but hardly surprising: Native Americans are resilient and have not allowed the NFL’s decades-long denigration of us to define our own self-image,” said the statement by Oneida Nation representative Ray Halbritter and National Congress of American Indians executive director Jacqueline Pata.
“However, that proud resilience does not give the NFL a license to continue marketing, promoting, and profiting off of a dictionary-defined racial slur — one that tells people outside of our community to view us as mascots,” they said.
Ms. Pata issued a separate statement on behalf of the NCAI saying that more than 100 Native American organizations “have spoken out in opposition to the use of the R*skins mascot,” raising questions about whether the leadership is disconnected from those it claims to represent.
“It is true some Native people do not find the word offensive. However, thousands of Native people across the country have voiced their opposition to the name and the historic, disparaging connotations it carries to this day,” said Ms. Pata.
Will the poll change the minds of those agitating for the team to change its name? Probably not, said conservative lawyer David French.
“The verdict is in: Not even Native Americans care about the Washington Redskins’ name,” said Mr. French in National Review. “But if you think this settles the issue, you don’t know the social-justice left. Here is the simple fact of progressive activism: When it comes to contentious social issues, the culture doesn’t decide — the subculture does, and the subculture cares about no opinions but its own.”
Meanwhile, there was plenty of crowing over the poll on social media from fans of the team name.
“I’ve been saying this forever. The name is an honorary term made by Native Americans given to warriors. The only people who were bitching about it were white,” said Stephen Rodriguez of Leonardtown, Maryland, on the Hail to the Redskins page on Facebook.
Michael Moran of Clinton, Maryland, said the poll caused him to change his opinion on the Redskins flap.
“I’ve been on the side that the name was racist; however, this poll has changed my mind,” Mr. Moran said. “The group that the name is supposed to be offensive to isn’t offended, so neither am I. This puts Redskins in the same category as Fighting Irish to me now.”