Get our free newsletter
More than half of D.C. residents think the Washington football team name is disparaging to Native Americans—which is enough to encourage advocates pushing for a change.
In the new City Paper/Kojo Nnamdi Show poll, 53 percent of likely D.C. voters said they think the team name is offensive, while 37 percent don’t see anything wrong with the name. Ten percent aren’t sure.
“How many words in the dictionary are defined as a slur that you would only get 53 percent to say they consider it a slur?” asks Joel Barkin, the vice president of communications for Oneida Indian Nation, the New York tribe that runs the Change the Mascot campaign that’s been airing TV ads and organizing protests against the team. “I think it’s encouraging though because that number has actually grown.”
While a majority of voters say the team name is offensive to Native Americans, the poll found a stark difference between white voters and black voters: Nearly three-fourths of white voters think the team name is disparaging, compared to just over a third of black voters.
“The level of the discussion plays very differently in the black community than the white community,” says the Rev. Graylan Hagler, a D.C. activist who has been pushing and organizing to get the name changed since the 1990s. (Hagler is also running for an at-large D.C. Council seat.) “I think in the white community, there is a greater sensitivity over being accused of being a racist.”
A plurality of voters, with a similar breakdown along racial lines, supported media outlets banning the team name from its pages or airwaves. Washington City Paper, Slate, the Washington Post editorial board, and regional papers including the Kansas City Star and the San Francisco Chronicle have all banned or vowed to limit the use of the name in their stories. An October 2013 Pew study found that at least 76 news outlets and journalists have announced a ban or restricted use of the team name. Even more have joined in the last year; most recently, NPR instructed staff members to limit use of the moniker on the airwaves.
This year, opponents of the team name scored a big win when the United States Patent and Trademark Office’s Trademark Trial and Appeal Board stripped the team of its federal trademark. The team has since appealed that decision. President Barack Obama and Majority Leader Harry Reid have both said they think the team name should be changed, and it’s become enough of a partisan issue that Republican Ed Gillespie, running for a U.S. Senate seat in Virginia, aired an ad during the team’s Monday Night Football game this week attacking Democratic Sen. Mark Warner for not supporting the name more firmly.
“We definitely think it’s going to change—that it’s not a matter of if, but when,” says Barkin. “It’s always been our hope that it will be sooner or later.”
Photo by Darrow Montgomery