Debate Over NFL's 'Redskins' Rages Into Preseason Games

Monday, 25 Aug 2014 03:10 PM

By Jennifer G. Hickey

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With the National Football League heading into the third week of its preseason schedule, more politicians, former players, and analysts are choosing sides in the debate about the Washington Redskins team name.

In a recently released interview, former Chicago Bears coach and ESPN analyst Mike Ditka said the debate "so stupid it's appalling."

In an interview conducted Aug. 7, but recently posted on redskinshistorian.com, Ditka told sports journalist Mike Richman, "This is so stupid it's appalling, and I hope that owner keeps fighting for it and never changes it, because the Redskins are part of an American football history, and it should never be anything but the Washington Redskins."

Not long after Ditka's comments were posted, talk radio host Rush Limbaugh suggested on air that Ditka might be fired by ESPN for his comments.

And not long after that, former Alaska governor and vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin weighed in on her Facebook page in support of Ditka, saying he "merely spoke his mind" and that "the liberal media's made-up controversies divide our country."

Just last week, the editorial page of The Washington Post announced that it would no longer use the term "Redskins."

The Aug. 22 editorial statement said that "except when it is essential for clarity or effect, we will no longer use the slur ourselves. That's the standard we apply to all offensive vocabulary, and the team name unquestionably offends not only many Native Americans but many other Americans, too."

Although the debate has been energized in the last year, it is not new.

The National Congress of American Indians started its campaign against using names that  it felt stereotyped Native Americans in 1968, according to its website.

The campaign aims to "end the era of harmful 'Indian' mascots in sports" on all levels and in all sports. During the last Super Bowl, the group purchased prime advertising space during the broadcast to air an ad in which a narrator lists numerous names, including adjectives and professional titles, Native Americans use to call themselves. The "Proud to Be" spot concludes with the narrator saying there is one word which they do not use and then shows a picture of the Redskins helmet.

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Supporters of the name also have taken to making their argument during actual game broadcasts. One such television ad in support of the name aired during the Redskins' Aug.  23 preseason game.

The ad, which was paid for by a group of former Washington Redskins players, featured interviews with Native Americans expressing support for the name and their belief that larger issues face their community than the use of the term Redskins.

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The coalition of former players also has launched a website that they say is not intended to "inflame or antagonize anyone," but to get the facts out to the public.

The alumni committee includes Hall of Famers Joe Theismann, Sonny Jurgensen, and Dwight Clark.

Earlier this year, advocates for a name change won an important victory when the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office announced on June 18 its decision to cancel the team's trademarks.

In its 2-1 ruling in the ongoing case of Blackhorse v. Pro Football Inc., the office's independent administrative tribunal determined that the Blackhorse petitioners established "by a preponderance of the evidence" that the term "Redskins" was "disparaging of Native Americans, when used in relation to professional football services."

The team has appealed the ruling and has said it is confident it will be overturned.


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