Sports teams across the country from high school to the professional ranks have always maintained a sense of tradition when it has come to their nickname. These names tend to evoke a local heritage or provide an intimidating edge over their opponents.
Regardless of how a name is derived, what happens when it crosses the line of common decency and is regarded as so offensive that the federal government implores the owner to change its moniker?
Such is the case of the Washington Redskins.
While Daniel Snyder has been adamant the name associated with the franchise since 1933 will not change, what would happen to the sports landscape if he did in fact comply with the United States government and change the longtime team nickname?
It could very well set off a firestorm that could see other teams bearing Native American nicknames changing their identity to something less offensive.
There are five other teams in professional sports who are identified by a Native American moniker: Kansas City Chiefs, Atlanta Braves, Cleveland Indians, Chicago Blackhawks and the Golden State Warriors. Golden State does not have any Native American imagery associated with their logo.
If Washington were to indeed change their name, what would happen to the aforementioned teams? What would happen to similar teams at the collegiate level or the thousands of high schools across the land?
Needless to say, change would not come quick. Snyder will fight as long as he can to keep his team’s identity intact. That being said, there have been recent cases of teams making strides to keep their brand from being offensive or demeaning to Native Americans or any culture in general.
One such case involved the Atlanta Braves after they introduced their spring training cap for the 2013 season. The cap featured the return of the screaming savage which caused a bit of an uproar among fans. As a result of the negative reaction to the cap, the Braves simply altered the design to the familiar A in red script.
While the Cleveland Indians still feature Chief Wahoo on their cap, they have been featuring an alternative cap that has a block C on it. It is not a big change, but it could be a gradual shift to becoming more socially acceptable.
Organizations across the country want to educate people about the misperceptions that a Native American team name can cause. These organizations hold symposiums to preach awareness of such identities and how they can be detrimental to all involved.
The United States Commission on Civil Rights went as far as to say:
The Commission deeply respects the right of all Americans to freedom of expression under the First Amendment and in no way would attempt to prescribe how people can express themselves. However, the Commission believes that the use of Native American images and nicknames in schools is insensitive and should be avoided...Schools have a responsibility to educate their students; they should not use their influence to perpetuate misrepresentations of any culture or people.
The NCAA still has many schools bearing names that carry Native American origins. Florida State is one school which has received support of its nickname from a local Seminole tribe, though others may not be as lucky.
It seems the battle to keep or change a team name will begin with Washington. If the change does take place, it will be unprecedented but not surprising. The aftermath of such a victory for civil rights groups will most likely shape the future of amateur and professional team names, changing the identity of a club and ushering in a new era of political correctness in sports.
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