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Washington Redskins’ Name Controversy refers the ongoing online debate surrounding the name of the Washington D.C.-based National Football League (NFL) team, Washington Redskins, which has long drawn criticisms for perpetuating an ethnic stereotype of the Native Americans. In May 2014, the controversy saw a noticeable resurgence in the wake of the L.A. Clippers owner Don Sterling’s racism scandal.
In 1933, the Boston Braves football team name was change to the Redskins by co-owner George Preston Marshall. According to the Boston Herald, the name was changed to avoid confusion with the Braves baseball team and to recognize coach William Henry “Lone Star” Dietz’ claimed Native American ancestry. The origin of the slang term “redskin” has been claimed by some as a reference to Native American skin tone by settlers, while others argue it was used in reference to body paint worn by certain tribes.
In 1988, the first national protest against the name were held following the Redskins’ Super Bowl XXII victory. In 1992, Native American in Minnesota protested the team’s name at Super Bowl XXVI. Interest in changing the Redskins name was renewed in 2013, with Native American protests held in Texas, Colorado and Minnesota. On the March 26th, 2014, The Colbert Report featured a segment titled “The Sport Report” in which Stephen Colbert mocked Redskins owner Daniel Snyder for maintaining his team’s offensive name. After the @ColbertReport Twitter feed posted a quote of Colbert lampooning Snyder’s contradictory stance, Twitter user Suey Park launched the #CancelColbert hashtag in retaliation.
Stephen Colbert’s Satire
On March 26th, 2014, American satirical news program The Colbert Report featured a segment titled “The Sport Report” in which the host Stephen Colbert mocks Daniel Snyder, the owner of the Washington Red Skins, for starting a foundation to support Native Americans while maintaining his team’s offensive name. In lampooning Snyder’s contradictory stance on racial relations, Colbert proposed that he would start his own offensively named charity, saying:
“I am willing to show Asian community I care by introducing the Ching-Chong Ding-Dong Foundation for Sensitivity to Orientals or Whatever.”
On March 27th, the Twitter account @ColbertReport, which is an official Comedy Central account but not handled by Colbert or the show’s writers, tweeted the quote (shown below). It was removed less than 24 hours later.
About two hours after @ColbertReport sent out the tweet Twitter user @Suey_Park re-introduced the hashtag #CancelColbert, which was first used on May 21st, 2013, by @DRM4GOD who was angered when Colbert seemed to make light of the Benghazi scandal, in a tweet calling the remark racist.
Harry Reid vs. Washington Redskins
On April 30th, 2014, Nevada Democratic Senator Harry Reid condemned the then-owner of Los Angeles Clippers Don Sterling’s racist remarks and went a step further to criticize the NFL and the Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder for refusing to change the team’s name from the controversial ethnic slur for Native Americans. On May 22nd, Reid released a letter signed by fifty Democratic senators calling for NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to take action against the Redskins.
On May 29th, the Washington Redskins Twitter feed posted a request for Twitter users to tell Reid what “the team means to you.” In the first 24 hours, the tweet gained over 550 retweets and 300 favorites.
SenatorReid</a> to show your <a href="https://twitter.com/search?q=%23RedskinsPride&src=hash">#RedskinsPride</a> and tell him what the team means to you.</p>— Washington Redskins (Redskins) May 29, 2014
The hashtag was initially used by fans showing support for keeping the Redskins name, with many criticizing Reid and Democrats for choosing to target the professional football team.
— drhoagie (D) (@drhoagie) May 30, 2014
Several minutes after the Redskins tweeted the hashtag, BuzzFeed politics reporter Andrew Kaczynski retweeted the post adding “Don’t do this to yourselves.”
Don’t do this to yourselves. RT— Andrew Kaczynski (@BuzzFeedAndrew) May 29, 2014
Redskins</a>: Tweet <a href="https://twitter.com/SenatorReid">SenatorReid to show your #RedskinsPride and tell him what the team means to you.
Minutes later, blogger Jeb Lund replied to the Redskins with a photograph of the Wounded Knee Massacre and comedian Rob Delaney posted a tweet noting that Hitler studied American Indian reservations. In the first 24 hours, the tweets received more than 400 and 600 retweets respectively.
OK. RT— Jeb Lund (@Mobute) May 29, 2014
Redskins</a>: Tweet <a href="https://twitter.com/SenatorReid">SenatorReid to show your #RedskinsPride and tell him what the team means to you. pic.twitter.com/L9DBy0KSVA
Redskins</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/SenatorReid">SenatorReid Hitler studied American Indian reservations while designing German concentration camps. #RedskinsPride!
— rob delaney (@robdelaney) May 29, 2014
On May 30th, the sports marketing blog Emory Sports Marketing Analytics posted a chart tracking the hourly Twitter mentions of the hashtag along with the hourly sentiment changes, noting that negative tweets eventually surpassed positive tweets 4:1. According to the Twitter analytics site Topsy, the hashtag was tweeted over 21,000 times within the first 24 hours.
In the comings days, many news sites published articles about the hashtag backlash referring to it as a “social media disaster,” including Today, The Washington Post, BuzzFeed, The Daily Dot, Salon, UpRoxx and CBS News.
On June 10th, 2014, a commercial against the team’s use of “Redskins” created by the National Congress of American Indians aired during the National Basketball Association finals. The video features images of Native Americans, including famous historical figures and modern Native Americans, emphasizing their proud heritage and their distain for the redskins slur. Though the commercial received widespread attention after airing on television, the video was originally uploaded to the National Congress of American Indians YouTube channel on January 27th, 2014. As of June 2014, the video has gained over 3 million views.
On June 18th, 2014, the U.S. Patent Office canceled the trademark for the Washington Redskins. The decision to cancel the trademark was based on the name’s offensiveness. Despite this decision, an attorney for the Redskins released a statement saying:
“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.”
While the decision could make it more difficult for the team to pursue legal action against those using their logo and name without permission, it would not stop the team from continuing to use the name Redskins themselves.
On June 18th, 2014, after the announcement that the U.S, Patent Office had canceled the Washington Redskins trademark, Twitter user FingersMalloy introduced the hashtag #NewRedskinsName to suggest a new name for the team (in his case, The Washington Hugs).
Those using the hashtag followed his lead and suggested humorous, ridiculous names for the team. In less than 24 hours the hashtag was tweeted out over 19,000 times. The hashtag was covered by several sites including Sports Illustrated and Bustle.
The Washington Post – Redskins ask fans to tweet their #RedskinsPride to Harry Reid
Wall Street Journal – U.S. Patent Office Cancels Washington Redskins’ Trademarks
Sports Illustrated – Twitter Has Plenty of Suggestions About What the #NewRedskinsName Should Be
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