Washington Redskins: Kickstarter Campaign Looks to Inspire Overdue Name Change

Stephen Sonneveld@@S_SonneveldCorrespondent IIIDecember 3, 2012

392246 09: A young Naitive American in ceremonial dress dances during Cheyenne Frontier Days July 23, 2001 in Cheyenne, WY. Frontier Days feature the largest outdoor rodeo in the country. (Photo by Michael Smith/Getty Images)
Michael Smith/Getty Images

As a result of one of my recent articles calling out the bigotry of the NFL, owners, players, sponsors and television networks for endorsing and profiting from the racist term “redskin,” I was contacted through Bleacher Report by a former D.C. resident and longtime Washington football fan, Greg Singer.

Looking to strip away the emotions surrounding this explosive issue, Singer, a freelance writer, is interested in advancing this debate from the dispassionate perspective of whether it would be in the economic interests of the franchise to create a new identity.

On Nov. 12, Singer began a Kickstarter campaign with the intention of having the global consulting firm, Accenture, conduct the appropriate market research needed to determine such information.

The Kickstarter campaign for “Washington 3.0” is scheduled to end on Dec. 13, and, as of this writing, has not yet met the intended goal.

Singer took the time this past weekend to answer some questions about the sensitive name change topic, the intended research Accenture would be doing, and what he hopes will be a “community-based and community-supported initiative.”

STEPHEN SONNEVELD: What was the catalyst for exploring the name change?

GREG SINGER: I've been curious about this question for several years, though I don't have the financial resources to manage the empirical research on my own. Historically, people have tried to influence or persuade the franchise owners with moral or legal arguments to update their trademark. I imagine, though, that the Washington football franchise is so well-established that there is no great incentive to change their name.

At the end of the day, we all must move forward as one community, and with the recognition of our one humanity. I'm a firm believer in the power of truth, and the inherent goodness of being kind, sympathetic and respectful. It's better to bring people to their senses, rather than to their knees.


SS: What led you to focusing on the “good economic reason” point of view?

GS: I do not know that the Washington football franchise cares about the moral implications of their team's current name, especially given how lucrative their business is. For years, I've wondered if there was a better way to approach the conversation. From a business perspective, if there is an economic reason to consider updating the trademark, it would make the transition to an appropriate name that much more straightforward. It could be good business, good public relations, and a way to reinvigorate the franchise.

Maybe the owners have done their own market research, though I wouldn't imagine they would be forthcoming with the results. Knowing that the winds of change are blowing, it's like oil companies doing research on alternative energy technologies, so they are prepared in the future when the market shifts. Meanwhile, they are happy to benefit from their current business model and the profitability of their revenue streams.

SS: You say you are independent, so does that mean you have no current affiliation with either the Washington franchise or the NFL?

GS: That is correct. I am not affiliated with the NFL or the Washington football franchise, nor with any organization, group or movement. I am just an individual who grew up in the D.C. area, whose family had Redskins season tickets for decades, and who wonders whether or not we can reframe this conversation and find reconciliation.


SS: Does it also mean that you are not collecting this data now because you have a future business opportunity in mind?

GS: Correct, this is not a springboard for some future business opportunity. This is a simple project with a singular journalistic goal. Once the research is done, whatever the data reveals, I'll write up an article describing the results for free distribution across all media outlets. Maybe it will help to reframe the whole conversation, and hopefully in a positive, inclusive light.

SS: Why did you choose Accenture?

GS: I know some folks at Accenture, who put me in touch with their marketing team. They will be doing the actual data collection and analysis. We're basically doing the research at cost. It is the bare minimum to get statistically valid results.

SS: Why should a diehard fan who is sick of hearing about this name change issue want this survey to take place, let alone support it?

Most fans have heard about the name change issue. Some are vocally against it, others are passionately for it. A great majority probably just accept whatever the norm is. My sense is that most people would be in favor of a name change, given the right spirit and cultural context. For anyone who cares enough about this issue, it is an opportunity to share in a common effort to help the conversation move forward.

Keep in mind, this project is only possible through the grassroots support of the community. Right now, we only require 85 more people (on average) to pitch in, to make the project a reality. As part of the project, contributors will be able to have input on the questions asked, and to consult on the final article write-up.

For example, in the survey, we will ask people their opinion on some alternative team names. My understanding is that, about a decade ago, owner Dan Snyder registered the "Warriors" as a trademark under the Washington football franchise. So that name is already a strong possibility. Also, of course, in the past, the team changed its name from the Braves to the Redskins. So, again, the possibility is not without precedent.

SS: I understand you wish to take an unbiased approach to this proposal and survey, but shouldn’t the ethical issue of a racial slur being employed and profited from be more important than any economic considerations? The South had a good economic case for keeping slavery, an immoral practice.

GS: To minimize the emotional sensitivities surrounding this issue, we are facilitating the project in a very sympathetic, respectful, data-driven way. If we have the resources to do this independent research, the hope is to encourage the franchise owners to consider a name change for economic reasons. It is a lesser approach, but maybe one that would make sense for them. Ultimately, the Washington football franchise is theirs to do with as they choose.

For example, in the early 1960s, the franchise owners refused to integrate their team to allow non-whites to play, presumably because of their strong southern fan base. However, when it became apparent that their team (i.e., their business) was suffering for it, amid legal and economic pressures, the owners relented and the Washington franchise became the last professional football team to align with the social reform of the time.

The justice and dignity that Native Americans deserve should be advanced according to moral reasons alone. Unfortunately, much of the decision-making of the modern world centers around economics.

SS: If it were any race other than Indians that was being disparaged, would our society tolerate such clinical studies as this proposal, and the one Annenberg conducted?

GS: There is a kind of historical amnesia that our society suffers from with regards to Native American history. Most people are unaware of the genocidal history of the United States in relation to the First Peoples of this continent. This ignorance continues in our day with a systemic indifference to the present circumstances and human rights of Native communities.

In some respects, the name of a football team is a trivial concern. In another respect, especially as a representative of our nation's capital, it is deeply symbolic of our cultural attitudes and reality. Certainly, our society should not abide the exploitation and disparagement of any ethnicity. If a team was named the San Diego [anti-Latino term], the Kansas City [anti-Semitic term], the Chicago [anti-Chinese term] or the New York [N-word], it wouldn't be accepted. However, the Washington Redskins passes under the radar without much of a cultural blip.

It is the 21st century, and we would do well to cultivate greater equality, justice and compassion in the world.


SS: How is your detailed market survey going to differ from past opinion polls?

GS: I am aware of a few earlier studies that have been done. From what I have seen, they seem like simple opinion polls. They don't go into much depth about the root issues nor explore the possible advantages for updating the Washington football trademark.

In speaking with Washington Post columnist Mike Wise about this project, he wrote: "Several years ago, the team tried to pawn off an Annenberg Institute poll that found 9 out of 10 people who identified themselves as 'native' people had no problem with the nickname. When I called the guy who did the poll, he said, 'Well, I have no idea how accurate it actually was. But let's say, for the sake of argument, it was 9 out of 10. So you have a dinner party, you invite 10 people and 9 have a tremendous time. But one person you completely insult and offend, to the point where others at the party are noticing. Are you really a social success that night?'"

SS: How are you going to contact the general public and fanbase to take this survey?

GS: That is the expertise of Accenture and its research team. I believe the survey will be facilitated online. They have the ability to qualify a relevant target population and statistically valid sample size.


SS: Are you going to reach out to reservations for opinions there?

GS: Mostly the survey will focus on the possible economic advantages of updating the Washington football franchise. So, the target population largely will be those people who actively support the team as fans, through game attendance, viewership, merchandising and suchlike.


SS: Are accountants and economists going to be consulted to determine such factors as wouldn’t ANY franchise name change carry a certain loss/profit margin? Why target a general audience for a survey as opposed to conducting a study with the number crunchers?

GS: Contributors who participate in this project have the opportunity to inform the kind of research we will be doing. Again, this is a collaborative effort. Any consultation on including economic cost-benefit analysis would be welcome. As conceived, the research is meant to focus on the Washington fan base, the ones who vote with their dollars every year in favor of their favorite team, making the franchise worth $1.6 billion.

SS: You’ve put your thesis forward, so what do you anticipate the results to be, and what would surprise you?

GS: Honestly, I don't have expectations for outcomes. I am curious what the data will reveal. I don't know that the article will be of any consequence, but I am willing to offer my voice to help in some small way. This project, though, won't happen unless others share in its vision and goals.

SS: Mike Wise of the Washington Post is not alone in having written editorials that make sound, reasonable cases for why the name “Redskins” should change, and the response from fans ranges from dismissive, to passion, to vitriol. Why will your product of reason reach people’s minds instead of inflaming their hearts?

It is the nature of any social change and cultural shift that the established order does not go gently into the night. It takes years of patient struggle to bend the arc of history toward justice, as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. would say.

For many Washington football fans, the team trademark represents tradition and identity, and they are loathe to see it change. Even so, over the last few decades, thousands of colleges and high schools have updated their team names and mascots to be sympathetic of Native American peoples. There would be nothing unique or revolutionary about a Washington football name change, other than the team (as back in the 1960s) is one of the last professional holdouts in modernizing.




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