The Smithsonian symposium on Native American team names and mascots back in February sparked the most furious push to change the offensive name of the Washington Redskins, since the team’s white supremacist founder George Preston Marshall coined the unfortunate moniker in 1933. Many columnists, politicians, celebrities, athletes and others have weighed in why they believe the name is offensive and should be changed — from legendary basketball coach Phil Jackson to Sports Illustrated writer Peter King to “Breaking Bad’ actor Jonathan Banks. Even NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has softened his stance on the name controversy.
But none of these voices, not even Goodell, has the power to affect real change and put intense pressure on Washington football team owner Daniel Snyder to change the name than the most powerful man in the world — President Barack Obama. That is why Saturday, Oct. 5 marks the beginning of the end of the “Redskins.” On this date in history, the president of the United States came out for a name change.
In an interview with the Associated Press published on Saturday, Obama said, “If I were the owner of the team and I knew that there was a name of my team — even if it had a storied history — that was offending a sizeable group of people, I’d think about changing it.” He went on to say that, “I think all these mascots and team names related to Native Americans, Native Americans feel pretty strongly about it. And I don’t know whether our attachment to a particular name should override the real, legitimate concerns that people have about these things.”
With the president weighing in, Snyder cannot hold off the forces of change much longer. Expect pressure to mount even more on the organization and the league to do something about the name. There will be more journalists like King who refuse to use the name, more newspapers like The Kansas City Star that won’t print the R word, and more politicians, like Representative Tom Cole (R-OK), who speak out about changing the name.
The Washington football team has a sad history of resisting change. Marshall refused to integrate the team until he was forced to by the federal government a full 15 years after the rest of the league played an African American player. But the thing about change is that you can’t stop it. Just as most of the Washington football team roster is now African American, including quarterback Robert Griffin III, soon the name and mascot will change as well.