There is a decades-old controversy over the Washington Redskins’ name and recently it has come back into the news in a major way. The Washington Redskins, a National Football League (N.F.L) team, has had their name for eighty-one years and has been criticized for using the term “redskins,” which is a derogatory term for Native Americans. Last year, 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 Native American 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 2014, 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.”
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.
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.