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Redskins Name Change: Is Time Running Out For Racist Team Names?

The Washington Redskins have stirred up a fresh wave of controversy amid new calls for the team to finally change its name, which some consider to be derogatory. The debate was reinvigorated last week when 10 members of Congress sent a letter to Redskins owner Daniel Snyder, calling on him to consider a new name. 

 “Native Americans throughout the country consider the term ‘redskin’ a racial, derogatory slur akin to the ‘N-word’ among African Americans or the ‘W-word’ among Latinos,” the letter reads. 

The congress members join a growing chorus calling for the team to change — or at least seriously re-evaluate — the name, which has been in place since then-owner George Preston Marshall (one of the worst racists in the sport's history) bestowed it in 1933. The two leading Indian organizations, the National Congress of American Indians, and the National Indian Education Association, have both publicly condemned the name. 

“The use of [the R-word] is especially harmful to Native American youth,” the letter continues, “tending to lower their sense of dignity and self-esteem. It also diminishes feelings of community worth among the Native American tribes and dampens the aspirations of their people.”

A team led by the American Samoa delegate to the House, Eni Faleomavaega, has filed a bill called the Non-Disparagement of Native American Persons or People in Trademark Registration Act of 2013, which would prohibit the filing of any trademarks disparaging Native American peoples or culture — and would nullify existing ones. This is not the first time legal action has been sought — a lawsuit was filed against the team in 1992, which the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear, while another had been brought before the federal Trademark Trial and Appeal Board in 2006 and will be heard in March.

The team does not seem concerned. General Manager Bruce Allen told reporters that the name isn’t changing, while Dan Snyder reaffirmed, “We’ll never change the name. It’s that simple. NEVER — you can use all caps.” A national phone survey found that 79% of Americans think the team should keep its name, with just 11% voting for a change.

“We suspect that over half of the 11% that want us to change the name are [Dallas] Cowboys fans,” a spokesperson for the team said glibly. 

Some have estimated that a name change would cost the team and the league up to $20 million in re-branding fees. Washington, D.C. mayor Vincent Gray, meanwhile, recently implied that the team would have to change the name — or at least consider doing so — if it wanted to permanently relocate back inside the city.

“I think that if they get serious with the team coming back to Washington,” Gray said, “there’s no doubt there’s going to have to be a discussion about that, and of course, the team is going to have to work with us around that issue.”

In his February State of the District speech, he referred to the franchise only as “our Washington football team.”

Approximately 3,000 professional, college, and school teams had Native American-themed trademarks in 1970, and approximately two-thirds have since re-branded.

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