Should Washington's NFL Team Change Their Name?

People, Identity & Culture
Race & Racism
Washington Redskins Helmet

Keith Allison/CC BY-SA 2.0

Grade Level:
Middle School,
High School
Common Core Standards:
Reading, Writing, Speaking and Listening
People, Identity & Culture
Race & Racism

Why is the Washington Redskins' Name Controversial?

The decades-old controversy over the Washington Redskins’ name is in the news again. The Washington Redskins, a National Football League (N.F.L.) team, has had their name for more than eighty years and has been criticized for using the term “redskins,” which is a derogatory term for Native Americans. In early July 2020, FedEx, Nike and other major sponsors of the N.F.L. football team asked the team to change its name. In addition, several Native American leaders and organizations wrote to N.F.L. Commissioner Roger Goodell, demanding that the name be changed. As a result, in July 2020, the team announced: "In light of recent events around our country and feedback from our community, the Washington Redskins are announcing the team will undergo a thorough review of the team's name." In May 2014, fifty United States Senators signed a letter asking the N.F.L. to push for a name change of the Washington D.C. football team. In June 2014, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office revoked the trademark of the N.F.L.’s Washington Redskins for the second time. In 2013, the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian held a symposium called Racist Stereotypes and Cultural Appropriation in American Sports which explored the mythology and psychology of sports stereotypes and mascots. And in October, President Obama said, “If I were the owner of the team and I knew that there was a name of my team—even if it had a storied history—that was offending a sizeable group of people, I’d think about changing it.” 

Is "Redskins" a Slur?

Major dictionaries characterize the word “redskin” as derogatory. According to The Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the term redskin is defined as “usually offensive,” Oxford English Dictionary says, “now somewhat dated and frequently considered offensive,” and describes it as “often disparaging and offensive.”

Because the term “redskin” is considered a slur by Native American people and others, it has almost disappeared from common usage. However, it is still a strong presence in sports, although even in the sports world, its use for team names and mascots has been on a steady decline. There are strong opinions and feelings on both sides of the issue as to whether the Washington team should change their name.

About the Lesson Plan

This lesson provides an opportunity for students to learn more about the controversy, understand different perspectives about the use of Native American mascots in sports and reflect on their own points of view through activities and writing.

Learning Objectives:

  • Students will understand why the Washington D.C. football team’s name is controversial and in the news.
  • Students will explore different perspectives on the controversy regarding the Washington football team’s name.
  • Students will reflect on background information and the different perspectives in order to determine their own point of view.
  • Students will express their opinion through an argumentative writing assignment, using evidence from various sources to convey their point of view.

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