The Washington Redskins’ plans to retire their name and logo follow years of scrutiny over the appropriateness and potential racism of using the word and making an American Indian man their mascot.
But while the Redskins have drawn the most ire because dictionaries define the word as a racial slur, American Indian mascots and names have been part of the country’s sports culture for decades. Washington’s announcement Monday leads to the question of whether other teams will follow its lead.
The NFL’s Kansas City Chiefs, Major League Baseball’s Cleveland Indians and Atlanta Braves and the NHL’s Chicago Blackhawks all use American Indian themes, and all of them have addressed the increased scrutiny they face in the wake of Washington’s decision.
The verdict: Some teams are more likely than others to make a change.
The Cleveland Indians released a statement just hours after the Redskins’ initial announcement July 3 saying the organization was “committed to engaging our community and appropriate stakeholders to determine the best path forward with regard to our team name.”
Cleveland’s manager, Terry Francona, came out in support of changing the name. “I think it’s time to move forward,” Mr. Francona said last week.
The Indians retired their logo of Chief Wahoo in 2018. Chief Wahoo was generally viewed as a more cartoonish depiction of an American Indian man than the Redskins’ logo.
The Braves sent a letter this weekend assuring their season ticket holders that they will not change the team’s nickname, but they added that they had not made a decision about the fan-driven “Tomahawk Chop.”
The letter said the team has formed a “Native American Working Group” and is committed to listening to American Indian tribal leaders.
“Through our conversations, changing the name of the Braves is not under consideration or deemed necessary,” said the letter, signed by Chairman Terry McGuirk and President and CEO Derek Schiller. “We have great respect and reverence for our name and the Native American communities that have held meaningful relationships with us do as well. We will always be the Atlanta Braves.”
The Braves’ chop, also used by the fan bases of the Chiefs and the Florida State Seminoles, is a celebration in which fans move their forearms back and forth with an open palm. Some American Indians have said they find it demeaning to their culture.
“As it relates to the fan experience, including the chop, it is one of the many issues that we are working through with the advisory group,” the Braves’ letter said. “The chop was popularized by our fans when Deion Sanders joined our team and it continues to inspire our players on the field. With that in mind, we are continuing to listen to the Native American community, as well as our fans, players, and alumni to ensure we are making an informed decision on this part of our fan experience.”
The Chiefs’ version of the celebration is called the “Arrowhead Chop,” named after the team’s stadium. It came under renewed scrutiny last year and early this year, especially as the team went on to win Super Bowl LIV.
The Chiefs have not released a statement regarding their name and have declined to comment to other news outlets.
The Blackhawks, meanwhile, are named after one particular American Indian from a tribe in Illinois, Black Hawk. One of the NHL’s original six teams, Chicago has kept its name for 94 years, even longer than the Redskins.
The team released a statement this month that “commended” other teams for engaging in the discussion about the appropriateness of their names, but it insisted it would not change its own.
“We celebrate Black Hawk’s legacy by offering ongoing reverent examples of Native American culture, traditions and contributions, providing a platform for genuine dialogue with local and national Native American groups,” the Blackhawks’ statement said in part.
“Moving forward, we are committed to raising the bar even higher to expand awareness of Black Hawk and the important contributions of all Native American people.”
Name-change activists such as Carla Fredericks, a member of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation in North Dakota and director of First Peoples Worldwide, say the Redskins’ name is just the tipping point.
“From an investor perspective, the investors are concerned about all of these names that are racially charged toward Native people,” Ms. Fredericks told The Washington Times. “[Washington’s name] is certainly the most egregious, but this dialogue is not over.”
That was echoed by University of Michigan psychology professor Stephanie Fryberg, a member of the Tulalip Tribe, in a recent virtual town hall about American Indian mascots. Ms. Fryberg shot down the idea that sports franchises were saluting American Indian culture with their names, logos and celebrations.
“What we know from research is, there’s nothing about the impact that honors Native people,” Ms. Fryberg said. “There’s absolutely no way in which we can see positive benefits. Therefore, right, using Native people as mascots, it demeans us, it dishonors us, it harms us, it dehumanizes us. You can’t claim honor simply because it makes you feel better.”
American Indians are far from unanimous in believing that “Redskins” is derogatory. Some say it honors their people. When the current logo was introduced in 1971, it was championed by Walter Wetzel, then the chairman of the Blackfeet Nation as well as a former president of the National Congress of American Indians.
Chief Walt “Red Hawk” Brown of the Cheroenhaka Tribe in southern Virginia is a proponent of the name Redskins and said he was heartbroken by Monday’s news. Mr. Brown, who called himself a redskin, felt it was another instance of American Indian culture and history being whitewashed. He does not want team names like the Indians, Braves and Blackhawks to change, either.
“The biased voices that are being pushed to get rid of the Redskin name, they have no inkling whatsoever of the history of Native people here in Virginia,” he said.
• Matthew Paras contributed to this report.