A national civil rights group is calling for the Washington Redskins, the professional football team long embroiled in conflict over its racist moniker, to change its controversial name.
The Washington, D.C.-based Fritz Pollard Alliance, named for Frederick Douglass 'Fritz' Pollard—the first African American coach in the National Football League—made its stance public on Monday, to coincide with Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
According to the Washington Post, which described the announcement as "among the most significant victories for opponents of the name," the non-profit sent a letter to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell that read, in part: "As the NFL continues to move in the direction of respect and dignity, one of its teams carrying this name cuts glaringly against the grain. It hurts the League and it hurts us all."
The letter declared that the word itself was "disrespectful" and "by definition, demeaning."
The letter was co-signed by the group’s chairman, John Wooten, a Redskins lineman in the late 1960s, and by Fritz Pollard executive director Harry Carson, a Hall of Fame linebacker for the New York Giants.
The Change the Mascot Campaign, a grassroots initiative whose supporters include Native American tribes, civil and human rights groups, and President Barack Obama, applauded the Alliance's move. In a joint statement (pdf), National Congress of American Indians executive director Jackie Pata and Ray Halbritter, a representative of the Oneida Indian Nation of New York, said:
By calling in such unequivocal terms for the NFL and the team to change the R-word mascot, the Fritz Pollard Alliance has chosen to stand boldly on the right side of history. The Fritz Pollard Alliance has played a pivotal and historic role in modern-day sports by helping to bring about some of the most impactful and socially responsible changes within the NFL. It is a testament to the group’s courageous commitment to opposing racism against all people that it decided to issue its clarion call to the NFL and Washington’s team on the national holiday honoring the legacy of civil rights icon Martin Luther King, Jr.
The team and Snyder seem to think that if they just ignore the mascot issue and do nothing then it will go away, but nothing could be further from the truth. This issue is not going away and with every passing day the team’s refusal to do the right thing becomes a more indelible stain on the legacy of Snyder and the Washington franchise.
In a statement to the Post, Tony Wyllie, the team’s spokesman, said: "We’ve had many conversations with the FPA about the name issue and are disappointed in their decision. We believe that they ignored the outstanding support we have received from Native Americans across this country for the Washington Redskins and the Washington Redskins Original Americans Foundation during their decision making process."
But even in the face of such resistance, ThinkProgress suggests this latest salvo by the Fritz Pollard Alliance could effect real change.
"Given Fritz Pollard’s close ties to the NFL, it could hold even more influence inside a league where commissioner Roger Goodell has defended the name both publicly and in private meetings, and where other owners and executives have been mostly silent on the issue," writes journalist Travis Waldron. "Fritz Pollard has forced major changes in the NFL before. It spearheaded the movement to create the 'Rooney Rule,' which requires teams to interview minorities for open coaching and executive position, and it has continued monitoring the NFL’s minority hiring practices since."
Last year, the federal patent office ruled that the term 'Redskins' violates federal trademark law, which does not permit the registration of trademarks that "may disparage" individuals or groups or "bring them into contempt or disrepute." The franchise is currently fighting that ruling in court.