(CN) — Going over the team owner’s head, more than a dozen Native American leaders and organizations wrote to National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell, demanding a name change for the Washington Redskins.
The name’s racist meaning for Native Americans has long been a point of contention, and the challengers say the NFL’s zero-tolerance policy against racial and homophobic slurs on the field should be extended.
In addition to demanding that the team eliminate all Native American names, images and logos, the letter says journalists should instead say the “r-word” rather than using the slur itself.
“We note that the above items are non-negotiable and not subject to consultation or dialogue ‘processes,’ however, we expect the NFL to engage in a robust, meaningful reconciliation process with Native American movement leaders, tribes and organizations to repair the decades of emotional violence and other serious harms this racist team name has caused Native People,” the letter concludes.
Dated Monday, the letter was delivered to Goodell the same day President Donald Trump tweeted his criticism of deliberations concerning both the Washington’s team name and the name of the Major League Baseball team the Cleveland Indians.
Trump said a need “to be politically correct” was driving the move.
Dan Snyder, who owns the Washington football team, had announced Friday that he would be reviewing the team’s name, seeking “input from our alumni, the organization, sponsors, the National Football League and the local community it is proud to represent on and off the field,” while still accounting for the “proud tradition and history of the franchise.”
That review came a day after FedEx, which paid more than $200 million in 1999 for naming rights to the stadium, requested Snyder change the moniker.
Nike appeared that same night to remove all Redskins’ gear from its website. Other sponsors, including PepsiCo and Bank of America, also issued statements urging the team to change its name.
The dispute goes back decades, with prominent Native American leaders filing a 1992 petition with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to cancel the Redskins name as a protected mark.
Amanda Blackhorse, a member of the Navajo people and one of 15 authors of Monday’s letter to Goodell, also filed a similar petition in 2006 against Pro Football Inc.
Goodell also received a letter Tuesday from members of American Indians in Children’s Literature, which studies how Native Americans are represented in juvenile publishing. Debbie Reese, who belongs to the Nambé Pueblo tribe, is one of the group’s founders.
“A primary emphasis of our work as educators is helping others recognize stereotypes of Native people in children’s books,” they wrote. “We believe that the Washington NFL team mascot enables similar mascots in professional and collegiate sports and in K-12 schools.”
The group underscores how misrepresentations of Native people in the media harm all children — Native American or not.
“Research shows that the self-esteem and self-efficacy of Native children is depressed by stereotypical imagery,” Reese told Courthouse News in an email. “Non-Native children grow up to be decision makers. Some go on to hold political offices. Some become editors in publishing houses. If their ‘knowledge’ of Native peoples is shaped by stereotypical imagery, they may act on that knowledge in ways that are detrimental to Native people.”
Reese noted that the lack of diversity in children’s’ literature has been laid out in two graphics from David Huyck and Sarah Dahlen, an associate professor at St. Catherine University’s Master of Library and Information Science Program.
The 2018 graphic shows that white characters were represented in half of all children’s books in 2018. Out of 3,134 children’s books that year, only 23, or 1% depicted Native Americans. Just only 10% had African or African-American characters, and 5% were Latinos.
Huyck and Dahlen made a similar graphic in 2015, when white characters were represented over 73% of children’s books. While that share shrank by 2018, the number of animals, trucks and other nonhuman characters jumped to 27% from 12.5% in 2015.
Reese said the graphic was inspired by Rudine Bishop, professor emerita of education at Ohio State University, whose 2015 piece “Mirrors, Windows and Sliding Glass Doors” studies how children look to literature for self-affirmation or escape.
“Children’s literature continues to misrepresent underrepresented communities, and we wanted this infographic to show not just the low quantity of existing literature, but also the inaccuracy and uneven quality of some of those books,” Dahlen wrote last year in reference to the 2018 graphic.