The Washington Redskins are not the only team to be named after Native Americans in professional sports, but recently NFL commissioner Rodger Goodell has been receiving a heavy amount of questions regarding the team name and its potentially racist undercurrent. Yesterday afternoon, the commissioner tweeted a fairly unambiguous statement clearly announcing his belief that the Redskin team name is not racist and actually endorsed by 90% of Native Americans in the U.S. The validity of his bold statistical data has been questioned by some fans and colleagues.
There actually have been several polls and other forms of research employed by the NFL and the Washington Redskins to try and place fan reactions to the name. Public Policy Polling did a study in early January that asked 741 registered voters if they thought the Redskins should change their name. The company reported that 71% responded in favor of the Redskin name. While clearly not the same claim, these statistics are generally in line with Goodell’s own comments, which stated that public opinion is favorable and 9 out of every 10 Native Americans are in favor of the name.
The Redskins released a comment a couple of weeks ago which justified their retaining the name and now can be seen as support for Goodell’s comments. The Redskins said that they have received messages from fans of a Native American descent and that those messages are overwhelmingly positive in natures. They said that the name represents heritage and tradition, honoring Native Americans rather then humiliating them.
The Associated Press did conduct a poll that found 90% of Native Americans favor the name, but that poll has largely been questioned for validity. In the past the commissioner has refrained from taking a hard-line approach to the question opting to say things that reflect a need to listen to the fans and not to definitively decide.
Now that Goodell has seemed to decide on the appropriateness of the name some question his view point. Apparently the commissioner was asked if he would feel comfortable calling a Native American a Redskin to his or her face. Goodell did not answer that question.
Part of the debate over the Native American name is fueled by this year’s Super Bowl. It is being held this year on land that was once called home by Native Americans. Opponents claim that Goodell is actively promoting a racial slur, but fail to comment on any of the polling that shows most Native Americans favor the name. It would seem an argument could be made claiming that those polled for the Public Policy Polling stats are ignorant of the connotations the word is ascribed with, however, that argument would lose traction when you consider the support the name has from the offended people in question.
With the Super Bowl being played outside this year, the NFL’s commissioner probably did not expect to be fielding questions about one the NFL’s worst teams last season. Goodell’s comments that the Redskin team name is not racist and is actually supported by the majority of Native Americans will certainly only perpetuate the amount of questions directed at him concerning this subject.
By Nick Manai