Washington Post Poll Finds Redskins Name Doesn't Offend 9 in 10 Native Americans

Tim Daniels@TimDanielsBRFeatured Columnist

The Washington Redskins offense huddles before a play against the Chicago Bears during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 13, 2015, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

Results of a Washington Post poll released Thursday showed 90 percent of Native Americans asked weren't bothered by the Washington Redskins' team nickname.

John Woodrow Cox, Scott Clement and Theresa Vargas of the Washington Post reported the results from the survey of 504 people from every state and Washington, D.C., are right in line with a similar poll conducted 12 years ago by the Annenberg Public Policy Center.

Other results of the poll show more than seven in 10 felt "Redskin" wasn't a disrespectful term, and eight in 10 wouldn't be offended if called that by a non-native. The responses were consistent across every demographic group, according to the report.

"I'm proud of being Native American and of the Redskins," Chippewa teacher Barbara Bruce told the Washington Post. "I'm not ashamed of that at all. I like that name."

"Let's start taking care of our people and quit worrying about names like Washington Redskins," Randy Whitworth said in a video accompanying the piece.

On Friday, the Native American Journalists Association responded to the poll:

The Native American Journalists Association (NAJA) expresses concern and disappointment about the May 19, 2016, Washington Post story “New poll finds 9 in 10 Native Americans aren’t offended by R******* name.”

Not only does the reporting fail to pass the test of accurate and ethical reporting, it also attempts to legitimize a defined racial slur and is an egregious example of creating the news rather than simply reporting it. 

Accuracy is the foundation of good journalism. However, the methodology used to conduct this poll was fundamentally flawed and as a result, its data set and all conclusions reached are inherently inaccurate and misleading.

“To be honest, I think it’s irrelevant,” National Congress of American Indians legislative associate Brian Howard said on Friday’s PFT Live on NBC Sports Radio, per Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk. “No other racial group has to be polled on an issue of social justice, especially when it comes to racial identifications or racially-driven names such as this.”

The Fritz Pollard Alliance, a diversity group that works closely with the NFL, also provided a statement, per Mark Maske of the Washington Post:

“The FPA calls on the Washington Football Club to meet with Native American leadership that opposes the name. We see this poll as one additional piece of information in a huge bundle of considerations that also includes other surveys that have indicated a substantially higher proportion of Native Americans are offended by the Club’s name, opposition to the name from over 100 civil rights and other groups, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s refusal again and again to register trademarks on the word ‘redskins’, and a federal judge recently agreeing with the PTO’s decision cancelling the Washington Club’s trademark on the name.

“We have been trying for almost two years to arrange a face to face meeting between the Club and Native American leadership. The Native American leadership has agreed, but the Club has refused. It is time for in person dialogue.”

The poll is in stark contrast to a 2014 survey done by James V. Fenelon, a sociology professor at California State University, San Bernardino, which found 67 percent of Native Americans believed the nickname was a racist word.

Michael David Smith of Pro Football Talk passed along a statement from Washington owner Daniel Snyder after the release of the new poll:

The Washington Redskins team, our fans and community have always believed our name represents honor, respect, and pride. Today's Washington Post polling shows Native Americans agree. We are gratified by this overwhelming support from the Native American community and the team will proudly carry the Redskins name.

The Change the Mascot campaign also released a statement, via Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk, reacting to the sentiment expressed in the poll, which reads in part:

"The results of this poll confirm a reality that is encouraging but hardly surprising: Native Americans are resilient and have not allowed the NFL's decades-long denigration of us to define our own self-image," said National Congress of American Indians Executive Director Jackie Pata and Oneida Nation Representative Ray Halbritter in a statement issued by the Change the Mascot campaign. "However, that proud resilience does not give the NFL a license to continue marketing, promoting, and profiting off of a dictionary-defined racial slur—one that tells people outside of our community to view us as mascots."

Dan Steinberg of the Washington Post also provided a statement from U.S. Representative Betty McCollum from Minnesota about the ongoing debate over the nickname:

The question the poll does not answer is a more one: will the National Football League and team owner [Snyder] choose to continue to profit from a racial mascot and team name?

The vast majority of Americans would never dream of calling a Native American the R-word. With racist roots directly linked to the genocide of Native Americans, it is just as hurtful and ugly as the N-word—especially for Native youth.

Indian people and tribal nations face significant economic, health and educational challenges that must be addressed. That starts with the NFL treating Native Americans with respect, not labeling them with a dehumanizing epithet.

Last July, a poll by YouGov and the Huffington Post found 50 percent of Americans felt the term was not disparaging to Native Americans, compared to 36 percent who thought it was. And 56 percent said the team shouldn't change its moniker.

The Redskins' nickname has remained a hot-button topic in recent years. In 2014, 50 senators signed a letter sent to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell urging him to force a change.

Snyder has stood behind the name throughout the criticism, though. He explained to Erik Brady of USA Today three years ago that things weren't going to change.

"We will never change the name of the team," Snyder said in 2013. "As a lifelong Redskins fan, and I think that the Redskins fans understand the great tradition and what it's all about and what it means, so we feel pretty fortunate to be just working on next season."

The situation has also become part of a legal battle involving the franchise's ability to trademark the name. Des Bieler of the Washington Post reported in April that the team requested a Supreme Court review of its appeal to a ruling that upheld the cancellation of the trademark.

The appeal is based on a prior decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, which ruled the Slants, an Asian-American rock band, should be allowed to obtain a trademark. Judge Kimberly Moore wrote the 9-3 majority opinion, noting the U.S. Constitution "protects even hurtful speech," according to the AFP (via Yahoo Sports).

The Washington Post noted in the poll report that the Native Americans' feelings on the issue could make it more difficult for those who oppose the name to force change. The results may be used as part of the ongoing legal proceedings too.

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