The benching of the Redskins name for Washington’s NFL franchise is a touchdown for social progress, and even the economics of the team and the league, according to experts at West Virginia University. Monday’s (July 13) decision comes on the heels of weeks of racial tension across the country and corporate sponsorship pressure, particularly from FedEx, which owns the naming rights to the team stadium.
Bonnie Brown, coordinator of the WVU Program for Native American Studies, is a non-native member (non-voting) of the National Congress of American Indians and a member of the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association.
Brad Humphreys, economics professor at the John Chambers College of Business and Economics, specializes in research on the economics and financing of sports and has published more than 100 papers in peer-reviewed journals. Growing up in the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia, Humphreys is also a lifelong fan of the Washington team.
“Major credit for ending Washington football’s disparaging team name goes to unrelenting Native American rights activists such as WVU’s 2010 Elder-in-Residence Suzan Shown Harjo (Cheyenne, Hodulgee Muscogee), tribal leaders, cultural experts, educators, child welfare advocates, curators, artists and others who have fought the mascot issue for decades. Thanks to their work, along with calls for justice from Black Lives Matter and other activists, a range of issues have come into sharp focus.
“While committed advocates want to see an end to all ‘Indian’ mascots, Washington’s team name is especially offensive. This is due to its long use as a racial slur against Native Americans. It has a painful link to genocidal acts carried out by bounty hunters paid to support government initiatives to eradicate Native people from the landscape, making way for white settlers, gold miners, railroads, et al. There are examples of these bounty payments published in historic newspaper accounts and advertising and documented in government reimbursement records.
“The number one reason to drop these names is that Native people say they are opposed to and harmed by the objectification that occurs in connection to the use of ‘Indian’ mascots. Like other People of Color, as citizens of a country with civil rights laws, Native Americans deserve to be listened to. They deserve fair treatment and freedom from corporate- and school-sanctioned practices that they say are racist and therefore harmful. Logically, no team chooses a name with the idea that it’s offensive or will cause harm to living people, but that’s the outcome with ‘Indian’ mascots. Opposing teams have been known to print T-shirts and banners with disgusting slogans such as ‘Scalp the Indians,’ ‘Let’s Send Them on a Trail of Tears,’ ‘Burn ‘Em at the Stake’ and so on. A Native athlete, student or fan in such a setting will not feel honored and could easily become the target of ridicule and racial harassment. Fans who think it’s innocent tailgate fun to wear a Halloween headdress, paint their faces, shout out war whoops and pound toy drums are not honoring Native people, living or historic—they are degrading sacred traditions related to regalia, symbols of honor, dance, song and rituals. They are reducing real people to cartoon imagery and reinforcing the formidable threat of societal invisibility that must be constantly resisted and contested to prevent total cultural erasure.”
- Bonnie Brown, coordinator, WVU Program for Native American Studies
QUOTES (on economics)
“All the fans are going to want to buy the new branded merchandise, which will drive revenues up. In this case, with a Native American-related name change, some fans may have been alienated by that before. So you might get an attendance bump, on top of sponsorship deals that you wouldn’t have been able to get otherwise.”
“There have been a lot of name changes at the college level because of nicknames associated with Native American imagery – Syracuse, St. John’s, St. Bonaventure. They all changed their nicknames and some research has shown that the attendance went up because some people didn’t like it (their previous names).”
“This will ratchet up the pressure on other teams like the Cleveland Indians and Atlanta Braves. There are still college mascots that have Native American associations as well like Florida State and Illinois. I think this is a definite trend and I think we can draw a straight line back to Black Lives Matter and NASCAR banning the confederate flag. Racial justice concerns have come to the forefront in society. And this has a much bigger economic component that you might realize.”
- Brad Humphreys, professor of economics, WVU John Chambers College of Business and Economics.
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