The Washington Redskins team in the American football league announced July 13, 2020 that it had decided to retire the ‘Redskins’ name and the team’s logo, which depicts a Native American man. Both have long been considered racist.
In a press statement, the team said that its owner Dan Snyder and coach Ron Rivera were “working closely to develop a new name and design approach that will enhance the standing of our proud, tradition-rich franchise and inspire our sponsors, fans and community for the next 100 years.”
The Washington Redskins name controversy involved the name and logo used from 1932 to 2020 by the National Football League (NFL) franchise located in the Washington metropolitan area now known as the Washington Football Team. Native American groups have questioned the use of the "Redskins" name and image since the 1960s; the topic began receiving widespread public attention in the 1990s. In July 2020, following a wave of racial awareness and reforms in wake of national protests after the killing of George Floyd, major sponsors of the league and team threatened to stop supporting them until the name was changed. The team initiated a review which resulted in the decision to retire its name and logo, playing as the Washington Football Team pending adoption of a more permanent name.
Native Americans demanding a name change included tribal nations, national tribal organizations, civil rights organizations, and individuals. The largest of these organizations, the National Congress of American Indians, counted the enrollment of its member tribes as totaling 1.2 million individuals in 2013. The Washington team was only one example of the larger Native American mascot controversy, but it received more public attention because modern dictionaries define the name as derogatory or insulting and because the team has its home in the nation's capital. The team headquarters is in Ashburn, Virginia and its home stadium, FedExField is in Landover, Maryland. The name controversy was a factor in the team's departure from Washington, D.C. in 1997, and remained a barrier in discussions of the location of a new stadium.
The historical context for the emergence in the Americas of racial identities based upon skin color was the establishment of colonies which developed a plantation economy dependent upon slave labor. Prior to the colonial era, many Europeans identified themselves as Christians rather than white. "At the start of the eighteenth century, Indians and Europeans rarely mentioned the color of each other's skins. By midcentury, remarks about skin color and the categorization of peoples by simple color-coded labels (red, white, black) had become commonplace.
Documents from the colonial period indicate that the use of "red" as an identifier by Native Americans for themselves emerged in the context of Indian-European diplomacy in the southeastern region of North America, before later being adopted by Europeans and becoming a generic label for all Native Americans. Linguistic evidence indicates that, while some tribes may have used red to refer to themselves during the Pre-Columbian era based upon their origin stories, the general use of the term was in response to meeting people who called themselves "white" and their slaves "black". The choice of red rather than other colors may have been due to cultural associations, rather than skin color.
U.S. Patent Office Cancels Trademark For Redskins Football Team
“We decide, based on the evidence properly before us, that these registrations must be cancelled because they were disparaging to Native Americans at the respective times they were registered”...
“The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board agreed with our clients that the team’s name and trademarks disparage Native Americans. The Board ruled that the Trademark Office should never have registered these trademarks in the first place,” Jesse Witten, the plaintiffs’ lead attorney, said in a press release. “We presented a wide variety of evidence — including dictionary definitions and other reference works, newspaper clippings, movie clips, scholarly articles, expert linguist testimony, and evidence of the historic opposition by Native American groups — to demonstrate that the word ‘redskin’ is an ethnic slur.”...
“I am extremely happy that the [Board] ruled in our favor,” Blackhorse said in a statement. “It is a great victory for Native Americans and for all Americans. We filed our petition eight years ago and it has been a tough battle ever since. I hope this ruling brings us a step closer to that inevitable day when the name of the Washington football team will be changed. The team’s name is racist and derogatory. I’ve said it before and I will say it again — if people wouldn’t dare call a Native American a ‘redskin’ because they know it is offensive, how can an NFL football team have this name?”...
“We’ve seen this story before. And just like last time, today’s ruling will have no effect at all on the team’s ownership of and right to use the Redskins name and logo,” team attorney Bob Raskopf said in the statement. “We are confident we will prevail once again, and that the Trial and Appeal Board’s divided ruling will be overturned on appeal. This case is no different than an earlier case.”