The Washington Redskins are not playing in Super Bowl XLVIII. In fact, they didn't even sniff the playoffs. Despite that, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has been bombarded with questions about Washington's controversial nickname, and his latest response certainly raised eyebrows.
According to NFL on ESPN, Goodell claimed the vast majority of Native Americans are in support of the Redskins name:
Roger Goodell on the Redskins name: "9 out of 10 Native Americans support the name"— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) January 31, 2014
This has left many questioning the validity of Goodell's statistical claim. Although that type of information is difficult to accrue, there have been several polls conducted on the matter. According to Erik Brady of USA Today, Public Policy Polling found in early January that 71 percent of those polled (741 registered voters) believe the Redskins should keep their name.
The poll didn't exclusively involve Native Americans, though, which makes Goodell's claim look a bit shaky on the surface. After the results of that poll were released, however, the Redskins organization made a statement that felt triumphant in nature.
The results of this poll are solidly in line with the message we have heard from fans and Native Americans for months—our name represents a tradition, passion and heritage that honors Native Americans. We respect the point of view of the small number of people who seek a name change, but it is important to recognize very few people agree with the case they are making.
According to an October story by The Associated Press, a poll of Native Americans revealed that 90 percent didn't find the term "Redskins" offensive. However, there was a great deal of controversy surrounding the validity of that poll.
Goodell's response to questions about the Redskins is an interesting departure from previous comments that he made. Although he has shown support for the name, he said in September that it needed to be reviewed, per Chris Lingebach of CBS in Washington.
"I think what we have to do though is we have to listen," Goodell said. "If one person is offended, we have to listen."
Goodell was asked about whether it would be acceptable to call a Native American a "Redskin" to their face, according to Jason La Canfora of CBSSports.com:
Goodell asked if he'd feel comfortable calling Native American a "Redskin" to their face. Great question. Goodell talks of polls support it— Jason La Canfora (@JasonLaCanfora) January 31, 2014
Per Jim Trotter of Sports Illustrated, the commissioner danced around the question:
so, goodell never directly answered whether he'd feel comfortable calling a native american "redskin" to his face. i'm shocked. #sarcasm— Jim Trotter (@SI_JimTrotter) January 31, 2014
The Oneida nation responded to Goodell in an email to ThinkProgress.org on Friday:
It is deeply troubling that with the Super Bowl happening in a place on land that was once home to Native Americans, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell would use the event as a platform to insist that a dictionary-defined racial slur against Native Americans is somehow a sign of honor. Commissioner Goodell represents a $9-billion brand with global reach, yet insists that it is somehow no big deal that his league uses those vast resources to promote this slur. In the process, he conveniently ignores all the social science research showing that the NFL’s promotion of this word has serious cultural and psychological effects on native peoples. Worse, he cites the heritage of the team’s name without mentioning that the name was given to the team by one of America’s most famous segregationists, George Preston Marshall. He also somehow doesn’t mention that the heritage of the R-word itself was as an epithet screamed at Native Americans as they were forced at gunpoint off their lands. The fact that Mr. Goodell doesn’t seem to know any of this – or is deliberately ignoring it – suggests that for all his claims to be listening, he isn’t listening at all.
The team's name has turned into a nationwide debate this year with seemingly every sports writer in the country weighing in with an opinion. Some writers like SI's Peter King won't refer to the team as Redskins anymore. Even President Obama shared his thoughts. Per the AP (via ESPN):
I don't know whether our attachment to a particular name should override the real legitimate concerns that people have about these things. I don't want to detract from the wonderful Redskins fans that are here. They love their team and rightly so.
As is the case with any type of social issue, there is both support and outrage over the nickname. In that same AP report, Indian activist Suzan Shown Harjo says she believes the term is offensive and thinks Native American support for it "is really a classic case of internalized oppression. People taking on what has been said about them, how they have been described, to such an extent that they don't even notice."
Despite opposition to the name, Redskins owner Daniel Snyder has shown no desire to change it, as evidenced by comments made in October, according to NFL.com.
I've listened carefully to the commentary and perspectives on all sides, and I respect the feelings of those who are offended by the team name. But I hope such individuals also try to respect what the name means, not only for all of us in the extended Washington Redskins family, but among Native Americans too.
Regardless of the facts, figures and rhetoric thrown around, this will continue to be a hot-button issue until something is done about it.
If nothing else, at least the name is overshadowing the fact that Snyder's team went 3-13 in 2013. That's certainly one way to divert attention.
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