On this last episode, we look back on 23 years of joyous, difficult and always informative conversation.
For years, members of the Native American community protested the name and branding of Washington’s team with little success. But the nationwide protests over racial equity have sparked a reckoning over symbols deemed offensive to people of color — including the team’s name, which is a racial slur. Now, Washington’s football team is getting a new name.
In the past, the team’s owner, Dan Snyder, has resisted any alterations to the brand, saying he would “never change the name of the team.” However, after insurmountable pressure from corporate sponsors and activists, the team recently announced that they “are retiring the current name and logo.”
We discuss the latest news in the football team’s name change and learn how indigenous communities have been stereotyped.
Produced by Kayla Hewitt and Richard Cunningham
- Kevin Blackistone Visiting Professor, Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland; National Sports Columnist, The Washington Post; Panelist, ESPN’s Around the Horn
- Ray Halbritter Oneida Nation Representative
- Tom Sherwood Resident Analyst; Contributing Writer for Washington City Paper; @tomsherwood
KOJO NNAMDIYou're tuned in to The Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU 88.5, welcome. Yesterday after decades of pushback Washington's NFL team officially announced the retirement of the team's 87 year old name and branding. The change comes amid mounting pressure from the public and from the team's corporate sponsors in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd and subsequent protests for racial equality.
KOJO NNAMDISo how are local fans reacting to the name change? After years of pressure, what pushed the team to officially retire the name now? And what will the new name be? Joining me now is Tom Sherwood, Contributing Writer for Washington City Paper and our Resident Analyst for The Politics Hour. Tom Sherwood, welcome.
TOM SHERWOODGood afternoon.
NNAMDIKevin Blackistone is a Columnist for The Washington Post and Producer of the upcoming documentary "Imagining the Indian." Kevin Blackistone, good to have you on.
KEVIN BLACKISTONEThanks for having me, Kojo.
NNAMDIAnd Ray Halbritter is a representative of the Oneida Nation. Ray Halbritter, thank you for joining us.
RAY HALBRITTERYes. Thank you.
NNAMDII'll start with you, Ray. Washington's football team nickname is defined in dictionaries as a racial slur. What's the history behind that term?
HALBRITTERWell, years ago in a tragic and dark chapter in this country's history, bounties were offered for the lives of American Indians killed. And to prove that you killed to claim your bounty to receive your money, $200 for a man, $100 for a woman, $40 for a child, was to bring in their scalps. And that scalp of course they had blood and they were red. So they were the redskins. It's a name that's been screamed at us as we were dragged off our lands and has been an offensive insult and denigrating term ever since.
NNAMDIKevin Blackistone, when did protests over this team's name begin?
BLACKISTONEWell, there were protests as far back the 60s, as Ray will tell you, maybe not demonstrative on the street, but concerns from native folk about the use this name in Washington and in the NFL. But the first time I actually encountered protests was the 1992 Super Bowl when Washington was playing Buffalo in Minneapolis. And as I was walking into the stadium in Minneapolis, I happened to pass by a large commotion, which upon investigation revealed that it was a protest against the name. And it was the first time in my life being born in Washington having been bread in Section 312 of RFK Stadium with a family that had season tickets that I had ever had a second thought about the nickname. So that for me in 1992 would be the start of the demonstrative protests.
NNAMDIRay Halbritter, the Oneida Nation has campaigned against the Washington football team's nickname for several years. When did the Change the Mascot campaign begin and how has it evolved since then?
HALBRITTERWell, in 2013, I had heard about some young teens at Cooperstown High School -- Cooperstown in New York is where they have the home of the Baseball Hall of Fame. And I heard that they wanted to change the name. And they had the same name. And so I went out there and I was so inspired by these young kids, who are our future. Our children are our future. They're going to be the future leaders of the country, and sometimes native people feel hopeless and helpless. But here was a new generation of potential leaders. They wanted to change the name. They wanted to do it for the right reasons. They didn't have the money to get the new uniforms. So we donated the money to help them get the new uniforms. But they were so inspiring. That's what got us to begin the Change of the Mascot campaign in 2013.
NNAMDIWhat are some of the strategies you've implemented over the years to protest the team name, Ray?
HALBRITTERWell, we went -- instead of a legal route we went to, if you will, the court of public opinion. We were able to get every major American Indian organization in the country, 50 U.S. Senators -- you know, because it's the NFL, because they're such a strong cultural phenomenon it did bring a lot of attention. And that's what we needed. We needed attention. We did radio interviews. We did media as much as could. We went to California and testified against the name. They ultimately passed the law banning the name from the school. So we succeeded in one sense very much by creating at least a national awareness and attention to the issue.
HALBRITTERAnd like we just heard, a lot of people just weren't aware that this was a name that, you know, had the history and meant what it means. You know, I was iron worker back in the 70s in Washington. You know, I liked the team. It's just the name needs to be changed, and we're pleased to be talking about it now that they've decided to change it.
NNAMDIKevin Blackistone, there have been several studies on the effect that mascotry has on Native Americans communities specifically on children. How do mascots impact young Native Americans?
BLACKISTONEWell, from psychologists that I've interviewed a few times over the years and the work of theirs that I'm read, it suggests that, you know, much like we thought in the black community about what young kids think of themselves as they get older when they see images in the media that are so negative, it's the exact same impact on Native American youth. They only envision themselves in these disparaging media displays, not something that's uplifting, but something that beats them down.
BLACKISTONEAnd even, you know, speaking to Suzan Harjo, who has been at the forefront of this fight since the early 1970s and is just a civil rights icon and legend in this country, you know, she makes the point that what makes fans happy when they looked at this team or they look at other teams with this sort of imagery, what makes them happy and their kids happy makes her people the exact opposite and impacts her youth the exact opposite. And so that's just, I think, one of the many pernicious things over the years about Native American imagery in sports.
NNAMDIKevin, Team Owner Dan Schneider has been quoted as saying he would quote unquote, "Never change the name." Were you at all skeptical the team would actually retire the name even after the review was announced?
BLACKISTONEYou know, I wasn't. And I'll just this. I mean, for a long time and Ray can attest to this, this has been a movement that has been slowly, but surely gaining momentum. And even though there have been some technicalities in terms of rules and regulations and trademarks through this fight, slowly, but surely high schools who have had this sort of imagery have cleansed themselves of it. We know that colleges that have had this sort of imagery have cleansed themselves of it. There have even been other professional teams over the years that have cleansed themselves of this sort of imagery.
BLACKISTONESo I always felt, which is one reason I decided to do this -- wanted to do this film "Imagining the Indian." I always felt that sooner or later this would be shoved over the cliff. And that's what we saw happen in the past week. But it is not yet I would say, hit the bottom of the canyon with a thud. There's still some falling yet to take place.
NNAMDITom Sherwood, you've been reporting on this for year especially the politics. What kind of pressure have local elected officials, governors, mayors, county executives, brought to bear on this debate or not, for example, in refusing to use the name?
SHERWOODWell, you have to know that every mayor since 1999 has wanted the team to come back to town. But there is a good long history for the last three decades of local people opposing the name. Even in 1988, during a game in RFK Stadium someone, I'm not sure. I couldn't find out who, flew a banner over the stadium that said, "Make Washington America's team. Change the name." And as far back as 1992, Bill Lightfoot, a lawyer here in town who was then a councilmember got seven other councilmembers, so that's eight out of the 13 who wanted to pass a resolution against the name in 1992.
SHERWOODThen Council Chairman John Wilson was a big fan of the team. I talked to Bill Lightfoot this morning. Lightfoot said Wilson was furious that this was even being brought up, because Wilson and then Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly were trying to keep the team in town. So it goes way back. And in November of 2001, the Council did pass a resolution urging the team to change the name by the next season. That was led by Carol Schwartz. And then in 2002, the Regional Council of Governments in January of 2002, it also passed. And the only thing it's ever done as far as I can tell is pass a resolution urging the team to change the name.
SHERWOODSo there has been a great deal of local work. It's kind of like what Kevin said. My analogy is like erosion. The giant tree by the river, the land falls away. At some point the tree falls into the river and we're about to have the tree fall into the river.
NNAMDIHere's Bruce in Ashburn, Virginia. Bruce, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
BRUCEGreetings. I would love to see the name change to be Red Tails. Red Tails is a famous World War II term and they have a fantastic reputation from back then as the flyers. And it would be really neat to see the team simply become the Red Tails instead of whatever they currently are.
NNAMDIYes. That name is being suggested, because the Tuskegee Airman, the black squad had red tails on their planes. And, of course, they were so widely renowned that there's a movie called "Red Tails" about them. And there are those, who are suggesting that that should be the new name of the team. But thank you very much for your call. Here now is Joan in Alexandria, Virginia. Joan, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JOANThank you, Kojo. First of all I don't think the name should have anything referenced to Native Americans, so warriors or brave. And I have to disagree with Bruce. I don't see what right the Washington football team has to cloak itself in the glory of the Tuskegee airmen. I think that's cultural appropriation and that it's just not right. I think they should find a name that has to do with sports and that has to do with Washington, but I'm opposed to either Red Tails or anything like warriors or braves.
NNAMDIActually we only have about 30 seconds left in this segment. Kevin Blackistone, but you are opposed to the relationship between sports and the military all together.
BLACKISTONEAbsolutely, I mean, from bombs bursting in the air to the presentation of the colors to military hardware flyovers, I think we have enough military in the NFL. And I also agree with that caller. I actually think that that's pandering to the black fans of the team by bringing in Red Tails. And, you know, additionally I would say I don't know why it has to be red anything. We need a break, a clean break from this past.
NNAMDIWell, we're going to take a short break on this broadcast right now, but we'll be back very shortly. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWe're talking about the fact that the Washington football team is retiring its name. We're talking with Tom Sherwood. He's a Contributing Writer for Washington City Paper and the Resident Analyst on The Politics Hour here. Ray Halbritter is a representative of the Oneida Nation. And Kevin Blackistone is a Columnist for The Washington Post and a Producer of the upcoming documentary "Imagining the Indian." Kevin Blackistone, this is not the only team that uses Native Americans as mascots. What other teams have questionable names and how have they reacted to pressure over changing their names?
BLACKISTONEWell, certainly in Major League Baseball, Atlanta and Cleveland. And Cleveland has been slowly trying to cleanse itself of ridiculous imagery like Chief Wahoo, who they finally retired. Atlanta has been struggling with its fans doing the Tomahawk chop in the stands and actually encouraging them by selling and giving away foam Tomahawks for them to use. The Black Hawks up in Chicago right now are suggesting that they will not change their name and point back to a history that they suggest has really nothing to do with Native Americans, but there is some untruth to their explanation about that.
BLACKISTONESo there are a number of other teams. But one of the reasons we're doing this film is because the filmmakers and I are Washingtonians, and we know that this nickname is the most egregious and this is the biggest domino to fall.
NNAMDIRay Halbritter, do you believe that these other teams should review their names as well?
HALBRITTERWell, I think that it calls for a broader discussion. I think one of the striking problems in all of this is that these teams and organizations just don't have a discussion with the impacted peoples. And it's really unfortunate, because they appropriate and market for profit and unfortunately it does often times create negative stereotyped and mascotry often does that. Native people have often been for too many years been treated as relics and mascots, and our voices have been left out of the debate.
HALBRITTERSo I appreciate the opportunity to speak to it here. And sometimes we're told what we should and should not consider respectful, and today's announcement -- you know, the announcement, I mean, of the team changing certainly represents an opportunity for us to speak for ourselves to this issue.
NNAMDIMaggie emailed, "I'm ecstatic that this change is finally happening. I'm disheartened by a few friends on my Facebook feed who feel differently. It's difficult for me to understand their position. The current name is obviously hurtful. Why would people continue to support something so hurtful and be so opposed to a change? I say, 'Go Red Wolves.'" Here is Frank in Hagerstown, Maryland. Frank, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
FRANKYes, sir. Thank you for taking the call. I was kind of a little indifferent I guess with the name change. My parents have been Redskin's fans for years, Washington fans for years. And having a Shawnee ancestry and background I look at it kind of with a sense of pride, you know, that my people were recognized. The name, I guess, could be construed, yes, as a little offensive, but the imagery I kind of hate to see disappear from the football team.
NNAMDIRay Halbritter, Frank identifies at least part Native Americans. There have been several attempts to poll Native Americans across the country on their feelings towards this team name. Many of these surveys have garnered vastly different results. Can you tell us about those polls and give us your thoughts on their outcomes because some of those polls seems to represent views similar to Frank's.
HALBRITTERWell, you know, the thing about polling here is that it doesn't address the issue that social scientists have demonstrating. The harmful effects this name, this slur has on Native youth, and for us a Native leader, as a father, I used to live in Washington. I liked the team. But as I matured and got older and learned more out about the origination and the meaning of the terms and also understanding the science of this and its effect on our youth, as a father I had to protect and look towards the youth of our community, of our people, and something needed to be done.
HALBRITTERAnd I can understand people for many years having something they cling to, they like. I mean, for Native people often we cling and look for and search for things that we can be proud of that we're not often listened to and we're not often heard, so sometimes we grasp for that.
HALBRITTERBut this from a scientific perspective damages Native youth and we have one of the highest infant death rates. We have one of the highest teen suicide rates in the world. And, you know, this needed to be addressed, and that's the reason we got involved in the campaign. We know we stand on the shoulders of countless Native leaders, like Susan Shown Harjo and Amanda Blackhorse and NCAI, the National Congress of the American Indians, who for decades have sought a change in the name.
NNAMDIHere is Austin in Bethesda, Maryland. Austin, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
AUSTINYes, sir. I was just calling in because at the beginning of this program the gentleman said that the origin of the term red skin came from Indian scalps. And I knew that was a little dubious. And I looked that up and it's saying that that's a claim associated directly with the litigation around the Washington Redskins. So I was just a little curious as to why that's being said.
NNAMDIKevin Blackistone, you're the one who's making the documentary "Imagining the Indian," and you're a Reporter. What are the facts?
BLACKISTONEWell, Ray just laid out the facts. That is a fact. And if you go back and look at old media in this country, old newspapers and some other documents you will see printed the bounties for the scalps of Native people referred to in fact as redskins. Now, we've also interviewed of have used some information from the Smithsonian by Ives Goddard, who did a lot of study on the entomology of the word, and he also does take it back to a description that some Natives may have used of themselves at some particular point in history. But that usage between people has become completely misappropriated by American culture, and there's no question that is a pejorative word and that it is used in a pejorative sense.
NNAMDISame question to you, Ray.
HALBRITTERYes, I mean, this is unfortunate whether you agree or disagree about where it comes from it is currently and defined in the English language as a slur, a racial slur. It's used in demeaning fashion. It has a detrimental effect to the self-image and self-esteem of Native youth. And as a Native leader all of this discussion and everything we're doing is about the future of our children and the respect for our people.
NNAMDITom Sherwood, while announcing a thorough review of the team's nickname, Owner Dan Schneider stated that the review allows the team to take into account not only the proud tradition and history of the franchise also input from alumni, the organization, sponsors, the NFL and the local community. It is proud to represent on and off the field. What do you expect that to look like in the minute or so we have left in this segment?
SHERWOODI think that's just word salad to cover the fact that they're going to change the name. I want to very quickly say in my list of actions against the team name I did not get to 2013 when the Council did in fact pass a resolution by David Grosso objecting to the name. So I just think that's word salad about all the consideration. The consideration is money. Without big change in the name, all the corporate money will dry up.
NNAMDIKevin Blackistone, in the 40 seconds we have left. Do you agree with Tom Sherwood?
BLACKISTONEOh, absolutely. You know, the only thing I'll add to that is that it's also the pressure -- the societal pressure over the years by the Native community that eventually caught up with corporate sponsorship of this team in the wake of the murder of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement, which broadened this reckoning with racial injustice in this country, in which George Preston Marshall, the owner of this team, who came up with the name, and drenched it in Confederate and racist imagery for so many years became caught up in.
NNAMDIGot to take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue this conversation. Hang on, Bruce DePuyt, I'll get to you. You, too, can call: 800-433-8850. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
BLACKISTONEWelcome back. We're talking about how Washington NFL's team has decided to change its name. Here is Bruce DePuyt in Washington, D.C. Bruce DePuyt.
BRUCE DEPUYTHow are you, Kojo? Good to talk to you. Tom, Kevin.
NNAMDI(overlapping) I am well. For many years, Bruce DePuyt was the host of "News Talk" on News Channel 8. Bruce DePuyt, what name did you use to describe the team when you were on the air?
DEPUYTI called them -- I used the city name, Washington, and that was that. That was it. (laugh) I got to a point where having sort of listened to both sides and tried to absorb the different feelings that are out there and acknowledging that there is a wide range of feelings, and they've been coming out, you know, today here in your discussion and, of course, over time. I just wasn't -- even though the origins and the original intentions might've been noble and positive, and if you're a Native American, maybe it's fun to be recognized in this way and honored, even.
DEPUYTBut, at a certain point, as time evolves -- and time does evolve -- I got to the point where I didn't want to risk hurting people's feelings or adding to some of the issues that your guests have raised. And so I would say that, coming up, we've got the Dallas Cowboys playing Washington and we would go from there.
NNAMDIWas there any pushback from your station's management for you to use the name of the team?
DEPUYTYeah, maybe in gentle conversation. I think they thought I was eccentric or maybe that I was being a little too PC or too hypersensitive. But I was really blessed and fortunate during the years that I was on TV, and particularly doing "News Talk." They gave me a lot of latitude and let me do what I wanted. And it was an enormous honor to have that level of freedom similar to, you know, what you enjoy each day.
NNAMDIBruce DePuyt, thank you so much for your call. And I, for one, don't mind your eccentricities. (laugh) Tom Sherwood, there were debates in newsrooms all across this region, and, frankly, across the country, over the use of the name of this team. What were those debates like at NBC 4, where you were?
SHERWOODWe had the -- there were reporters -- Jim Vance, the famous anchor who was there for 40 years, or whatever it was before he died, he did a tremendous commentary once on how he would no longer use the name. The agony that he felt over supporting the team -- of course, it was winning back in the day. And reporters have the right to not use the name. Generally speaking, though, there's a difference -- if you're a reporter and you're reporting on the Washington football team, you can use the name because you're reporting on the name.
SHERWOODAnd, in my own instance, I will occasionally use it when I'm specifically referring to the name. But at NBC 4 and other places, Bruce Johnson at channel 9 some years ago, said he would no longer use the name. There was no ripple -- as far as I could tell -- Bruce is still at channel 9. But it's an agony.
SHERWOODYou know, one issue, and maybe our guests -- other guests can clear this up. We have the National Museum of the American Indian. We have people who say Native American. Some people are concerned about -- worried about saying Indian. Maybe we could get a little guidance of what we can say when we talk about this issue. We all know the R word, as we now call it, is not the right word. But what about interchanging the Indian and Native American?
NNAMDIIt's funny you should mention that. My own now-deceased friend Russell Means, who once headed the American Indian movement, referred to it as American Indian movement. But Ray Halbritter, where do you come down on this?
HALBRITTERWell, we -- you know, one of the boldest, largest organizations is called the National Congress of American Indians. And then you have the American Indian movement and then you have, of course, Native American. I think most native people are comfortable with either. You know, the idea of suggesting Native American was a way of just us sort of trying to say, you know, here, call us by this name.
HALBRITTERBecause sometimes when people mean -- they may mean respect, you know, people, for example, in Washington team, we know the fans aren't knowing and many people aren't aware of what the meaning is and what the term and its effect is on our people. But both American Indians and Native Americans I find myself comfortable with, but I can't tell you that I represent all native people, but just my perspective.
NNAMDIWell, Kevin Blackistone, you are producing the upcoming documentary "Imagining the Indian." Can you tell us about that project?
BLACKISTONESure. It started in 2014, when it appeared to me that the team may have to change its name because the U.S. Patent and Trademark office cancelled the trademark registration. And it seemed like that was going to finally be the thing that changed everything.
BLACKISTONEAnd so I hooked up with a friend of mine, Sam Bardley, a D.C. film producer, a filmmaker who most famously did the ESPN "30 for 30" doc on Len Bias called "Without Bias." We've been kicking around some ideas, and I told him, I said, we have to document this moment, particularly being black Washingtonian fans of the team.
BLACKISTONEAnd so we've been working on it ever since. We've been fortunate get married to Aviva Kempner, the Ciesla Foundation. Aviva is an award-winning D.C. documentarian, and I'm sure everybody knows from the films that she's done on Jewish heroes and heroines. And she was very much attracted to this and had worked with native folk before.
BLACKISTONEAnd so what we were doing, up until the past couple of months, was putting together a film explaining why this practice in sports needed to be done away with. And now, with the speed of events, we're still doing that, but thankfully we're doing a film that is also focusing on the fact that this work has been done, that finally the hard work of native folk for the last 50-plus years is seeing something come to fruition, that finally this team in this city that we grew up rooting for, is changing its absolutely opprobrious name.
NNAMDILisa tweeted: I'm a fan. I'm looking for a rebrand to the Senators, the historic D.C. sports franchise name, and adoption of red, white and blue colors. And I wouldn't mind a year-round multiuse facility here, as long as D.C. taxpayers were exempt from funding it. Here is Diane in Laurel, Maryland. Diane, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
DIANEHi, Kojo. I've been listening to all of this very carefully, and I was -- did have a certain comment to make, but instead I'm going to say this. Given the times that we have all been, as human beings, perhaps a good representation of this team, if they do want to keep it home in D.C., is perhaps the bald eagle. He's beautiful, majestic. He climbs higher than any bird on the planet. And I can't see anybody opposed to him. And I believe a nest of them are on the emblem there on top of the capitol. So, perhaps he's the safest thing to use that wouldn't upset anybody.
NNAMDII'm sure, Diane, that there will be thousands of suggestions about what would be most appropriate for the new name, but thank you very much for your call. Ray Halbritter, for several years, you have helped to lead protests against this team's name and branding. Has the team reached out to you for input on the potential name change?
HALBRITTERNo, we haven't heard anything from the team or the NFL. We would welcome such a discussion, and it would be a good thing. We're a little bit -- you know, we hear that they're talking about something that will honor both military and native people. And it's a little bit suspect, in the sense given the history of our efforts to try to get the name to change and what it finally took to get the name to change, unfortunate tragedy in this country that created such a movement that caused this kind of pressure to be put on the team, unfortunately. But it is part of their legacy. George Preston Marshall had to be pressured to integrate the Washington team, as well.
NNAMDIWe'll get to that in a second. Kevin Blackistone, this team name has changed before. When was that, and what was the original team name?
BLACKISTONEWell, the original team name wasn't that much better. The original team name was the Boston -- was the Braves, when it was in Boston. And George Preston Marshall owned them, and he changed the name to what we've just gotten rid of because he wanted to differentiate it from the baseball team in Boston, of the same name, playing in the same confines. And then eventually, obviously, in 1937, he moved the team here.
BLACKISTONEBut, at some point, maybe we can even talk about the fact that, while that's one name change, there are some other changes that this team, this franchise has undertaken over the years to distance itself from some things that were disconcerting to a part of the public. But the name was unfortunately not one of them.
NNAMDIYes. And I think you take the position, or you have pointed out that there's only one group of people in this nation who are used as mascots, and that is Native Americans. So, whether it's Braves or the objection of a name of our local team, I guess you're suggesting that that just needs to end.
BLACKISTONEAbsolutely. As Ray said, and others have said, you know, we don't need to use people as mascots. We need not denigrate a people to the animals that they may be playing on the other side of the field. That's just an uncomfortable vision for me, and I don't think it's something that we need.
NNAMDITom Sherwood, Washington's football team is not the only professional sports team in this region or in this town to undergo a name change. What was the reaction of fans when the Washington Bullets became the Washington Wizards in 1997?
SHERWOODWell, you know, Abe Pollin, the late owner who -- the team originally was the Baltimore Bullets, so he got the team -- there was so much violence in the city, so much shooting violence, Abe Pollin thought he would change the name in the '90s. And he had a contest for a new name and there were people screaming to keep the name, that it had nothing to do with violence. He insist -- he owned the team, he said he's going to change it.
SHERWOODSo, it ended up, after a contest, of a variety of names, he ended up with the Wizards. And, of course, in a majority black city, some people said, wait a minute, that's like the Ku Klux Klan wizards. (laugh) So, it was quite -- it was fraught with controversy all along the way. I mean, the lady who just suggested bald eagles, I mean, I think Philadelphia would have a heart attack if we -- or the NFL would have a heart attack if we tried to use that name.
NNAMDIBut it was -- Abe Pollin made a stand. He said, look, I'm going to change the name. I know a lot of people love it and people still wear Bullets attire. I think Kevin was wearing a Bullets shirt in a picture I saw. Maybe he can confirm that.
SHERWOODSo, Bullets was a violent name. Wizards, you know, people would like the team to do better. It's actually doing better now, these days. So, it was a big deal, people fought over it, but they also got over it.
NNAMDII remember when the throwback jersey of the late Wes Unseld was fetching so much money online or anyplace else. Do you remember that, Kevin Blackistone?
BLACKISTONEOh, absolutely. And I'll just point out two things about the Bullets nickname. You know, the team originally was in Baltimore, and so they were named after, arguably, the most famous piece of architecture in Baltimore, which is the Shot Tower, which is where bullets used to be produced in the Colonial War, right. So, that's where the name originated. And, sure, I mean, that's what I grew up with. But you know what? When they changed the name, I didn't give it a second thought. And I continued my fanaticism for the Wizards just as I had for the Bullets. And I'm sure I can do the same with this football team, if it can come up with a better nickname.
NNAMDISame here. Here's Sarah in Frederick, Maryland. Sarah, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
SARAHGood afternoon, everybody. I was just wondering. I am not affiliated with any kind of youth football leagues. All I know of is Pop Warner and I know that they tend to mimic the names of professional teams. And so I was wondering, are those youth football programs going to also stop using this name?
NNAMDII have no idea. Kevin Blackistone?
BLACKISTONEYou know, you would hope that they would. I mean, that's a great point. They do mimic everything they see in the pros. They've started mimicking Breast Cancer Awareness Month by wearing pink paraphernalia. They do everything that they see the pros do. And so it would be a great example and a great step, I think -- in the words of Ibram Kendi -- towards antiracism, if, in fact, we as adults could set this example for those who are following in our footpaths.
NNAMDIRay Halbritter, despite years of activism by the Native American community, it seems the tipping point for the name to be retired was the push by the team's sponsors. Do you believe financial pressure was absolutely necessary in order for this change to come about?
HALBRITTERWell, we certainly want people to make the right decisions for the right reasons, and we're grateful they're making the right decision. I do think that the economic pressure was the tipping point, but that, of course, came behind the unfortunate, tragic death of George Floyd. And the result in the consequential protests that occurred in this country where people, once again, realized the systemic racism that needed to be addressed, that still needs to be addressed and hopefully will be addressed in some fashion. And that kind of pressure did cause, I believe, the economic pressure, ultimately, on the team and caused them to retire the name.
NNAMDITom Sherwood, could changing the name be financially advantageous to the team?
SHERWOODWell, that's what a lot of people say, that, you know, people will buy new gear and all of that. But, I must say, I checked the team's official website this morning. I'm going to say what it is, Redskins.com, and you can still buy, on that site, all types of apparel with the name on it. So, some people believe that Dan Snyder is reluctantly being dragged to change this name. It seems to me that the team could stop selling -- as a goodwill gesture, stop selling Redskins attire on its website.
SHERWOODIt's official Twitter site is @Redskins. It has 1.2 million followers. So, all of this could change -- and, to your question, yes, a new team name would generate stuff. But what happens when -- if a -- if somebody -- a fan wants to wear old Redskin attire into FedEx Field on August 14th when the first preseason game is played this year, if it's played, what happens then? Would that old attire -- should that be allowed in the stadium?
NNAMDIThat's a good question. I don't have an answer. Do you, Kevin Blackistone?
BLACKISTONEI don't, but that just goes to show you how much work there is to be done. You know, a lot of attention was paid to NASCAR when it announced that it would no longer have the Confederate flag allowed -- the Confederate flag to be waved at its events. Well, of course, that's easy to do right now given the pandemic economy, and you don't have that many fans there.
BLACKISTONEBut it made a similar sort of announcement after the massacre at Mother Emmanuel Church by a gunman who had posed with the Confederate flag. And the result was that they didn't stop their vendors outside of the NASCAR tracks from selling Confederate imagery, or anyone from necessarily wearing it into the arenas. So, it's going to be a very difficult thing.
BLACKISTONEAnd I just want to say one more thing. The caller who asked about peewee football teams, I should point out that Little League International -- for little league baseball and softball players -- just in 2019 banned offensive nicknames from any of their sports teams. So, that affects, you know, a couple million kids who play baseball, learning how to present themselves to the public going forward, having some sensitivity towards this type of an issue.
NNAMDIHere's Kim in Washington, D.C. Kim, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
KIMHi. I'm just wanting to say that I'm not a fan of the team. I've had some people who are fans of the team tell me that some indigenous person in management back in the team's history approved of that name. I would love to know if that's true or not. And I'm just very happy that they're going to change it. Thanks.
NNAMDIDo you know anything about that, Ray Halbritter?
HALBRITTERI don't, but I have no doubt there are native people who are fans who don't feel that it's necessarily offensive, and they're entitled to their opinion. I happen to represent an Indian nation. We care very much, and part of our culture and our history is to look -- make decisions considering its effect on to the seventh generation to the future.
HALBRITTERAnd we have found out more as we learn more about this, you know, that it does damage the self-esteem of our youth. Whether we realize it, or a fan or not, it will damage the self-esteem and the self-image of native youth. They are our future. They are the ones we are making decisions hopefully for a better future. So, that's why these decisions need to be made. And it's not necessarily about political correctness or a fan base or a poll. You can poll a lot of things, but that doesn't necessarily make it right. It doesn't -- polls aren't going to change the fact this is a racist slur, that it is denigrating and dehumanizing.
NNAMDIKevin Blackistone, this name change comes as the team distances itself from George Preston Marshall, who founded the team in 1933. Is this, in your view, in any way linked to the name change?
BLACKISTONEIt is, of course, linked to the name change, because I think what I was getting at earlier is that this wrecking ball in the wake of Georg Floyd's murder, that Black Lives Matter movement has shoved into racial injustice everywhere, thankfully, wound up crashing into, literally and figuratively, the monument outside of RFK Stadium to George Preston Marshall, who had a racist past. Who maintained this team as the only all-white team in pro football until he was forced by the government -- which was funding the construction of the new stadium -- to integrate the team.
BLACKISTONEI mean, you can see the old pictures -- I'm sure Tom Sherwood has seen them -- of Nazis marching outside the construction site of that stadium, pleading with Mr. Marshall to keep the team all white. And so, fast forward to today, and Dan Snyder finds himself in that same corner. He had an opportunity to make a change. People asked nicely to make a change. He refused to make a change. He's yet to apologize for not having made a change. And now he is being forced, at the point of bayonet, to make this change.
BLACKISTONEAnd I'll just respond to one thing that maybe the other caller referred to. You know, there's been a lie perpetuated by this team about having a first coach by the name of Lone Star Dietz who claimed to have been Indian, and that was the badge of honor that this team supposedly was representing. In fact, he was not native. He was German-American, from the state of Wisconsin. And it's all part of dressing up and playing native that this team has promulgated decade after decade.
NNAMDITom Sherwood, this team is seven years away from the end of its contract with FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland. At the end of that contract, this team may be seeking a possible return to its former home here in D.C. at RFK Stadium. However, according to several city officials, the team needed to change its name before they would be welcomed back. So, now the name has been retired. Are we likely to see this team back in the city?
SHERWOODWell, there are a lot more boulders in the road than just the name. There's Charles Allen, in particular, of Ward 6, that says he wants no type of stadium out there. He wants to redevelop that land. There are federal issues. There's a lot to be said. The team has been looking all around the Washington region for a new place, for a new stadium. It's still a big climb in the District of Columbia, but changing the name at least allows for another conversation to start.
NNAMDIAnd I'm afraid that's about all the time we have. Tom Sherwood is a contributing writer for Washington City Paper and the resident analyst for The Politics Hour, here. Tom Sherwood, always a pleasure.
NNAMDIRay Halbritter is a representative of the Oneida Nation. Ray Halbritter, thank you so much for joining us.
NNAMDIKevin Blackistone is a columnist for the Washington Post and a producer of the upcoming documentary, "Imagining the Indian." Kevin, good luck on the documentary.
NNAMDIToday's show was produced by Kayla Hewitt and Richard Cunningham. Are you a student, teacher or parent? We want to hear from you for our new education series, which begins airing this Thursday. What are you most worried about when it comes to school this fall? Record a voice memo on your cell phone and email that recording to Kojo@wamu.org, subject line “school reopening.”
NNAMDIComing up tomorrow, WAMU host Jeffrey James Madison has experienced racism throughout his life, but only recently went public with stories that shocked even those closest to him. We hear from him and from RuQuan Brown, an accomplished Washingtonian of a younger generation, about living while black and male.
NNAMDIPlus, since the pandemic, food banks have become a lifeline for thousands in the Washington region. But what happens when the food banks run out of food? That all starts tomorrow, at noon. Until then, thank you for listening, and stay safe. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
Most Recent Shows
Kojo talks with author Briana Thomas about her book “Black Broadway In Washington D.C.,” and the District’s rich Black history.
Poet, essayist and editor Kevin Young is the second director of the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture. He joins Kojo to talk about his vision for the museum and how it can help us make sense of this moment in history.
Ms. Woodruff joins us to talk about her successful career in broadcasting, how the field of journalism has changed over the decades and why she chose to make D.C. home.