Call for change: Controversy at the capital

December 20, 2013 | 11 a.m.

Support growing in favor of changing Washington Redskin's mascot

Sports | Tyler Schmidt for The Clarion


Professor Scott Sochay is a member of the Little Transverse Bay Band of Odawa Indians. Sochay notes that "redskin" has a negative connotation and should be avoided in public use. | Photo for The Clarion by Kristine Schmidt

There’s a buzz circulating around Washington D.C. nowadays and it has nothing to do with President Obama, an election or anything else political for that matter. Rather, recent months have seen an increase in support to change the name and mascot of the capital’s football team: the Washington Redskins.

Established in 1932, the Redskins are one of the National Football League’s oldest teams. The franchise was first founded as the Boston Braves, later changing their name to the Redskins in 1937. With three Super Bowl victories in five appearances and an all-time record of 565-541-27, Washington has established themselves as one of the NFL’s most celebrated and successful franchises. With such a storied history, some would ask, why try and rebrand a well-known team?

Lately, district lawmakers have called upon the team to change its current name. David Grosso, an at-large member of the Council of D.C., proposed the idea back in May, calling the current mascot “derogatory and racist,” adding “enough is enough – the name must go.”

Scott Sochay, a communications professor at Bethel, is a part of the Little Traverse Bay Band of Odawa Indians and has his own thoughts about the meaning of the term “redskin.”

“(Redskin) has a negative connotation to it,” Sochay said. “In fact, the Oxford Dictionary describes it as a ‘derogatory term, disparaging, usually offensive, insulting in taboo, and should be avoided in public usage."

Sochay went on to say that the origin has been lost in the midst of history, but when settlers were coming to America, there were bounties put on the scalp of an Indian. The scalp was identified as Indian by the attached “red skin,” so “redskins” became known as the term for the scalps turned in for a bounty.

This isn’t the first time Washington D.C. has met controversy regarding its professional sports teams. The NBA franchise in Washington used to be called the Washington Bullets. However, the owner of the team decided that because D.C. had a high crime rate, he didn’t want the team to be associated with anything negative, so he decided to change the name.

Despite recent outcry, team owner Daniel Snyder has said that he is not considering changing the name, noting that it is a “badge of honor” and has told Native American leaders that the name stands.

What about other teams with Native American mascots? Are they seen as honoring to Native American culture? Florida State is known as the Seminoles, and the University of Utah is known as the Utes.

“Those schools have worked with the local tribes,” Sochay said. “As long as the local tribe is fine with it, then I’m fine with it because those tribes have played a role in determining what’s honoring.”

According to Sochay, a conference in Washington D.C. at the Museum of the American Indian was held last spring and this topic was a hot-button issue. “Ever since then, momentum has been building,” Sochay said.

Public figures such as Bob Costas, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and President Obama have advised Snyder to change the team’s name. While it doesn’t seem that Snyder is going to budge anytime soon, one has to wonder if he will eventually succumb to the pressure as the issue remains attached to his team.

Currently, The Washington Redskins are 3-9 and in last place in the NFC East Division. They will likely miss the playoffs.


Photo Illustration for The Clarion courtesy of Jeff Quinton


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