WASHINGTON (AP) — The Washington Redskins' team name has been the subject of legal battles, political debate and now will be part of a scholarly discussion at the Smithsonian about the use of Native American mascots and nicknames in American sports.
The National Museum of the American Indian will host a daylong symposium Thursday entitled "Racist Stereotypes and Cultural Appropriation in American Sports." Scholars, sports writers and Native Americans will gather for the public discussion.
The Redskins' name, perhaps the most visible, has been the subject of ongoing debate. As recently as Tuesday night, Washington Mayor Vincent Gray specifically avoided saying the name of Washington's NFL franchise in his State of the District speech and instead referred to "our Washington football team."
Museum Director Kevin Gover, of the Pawnee Nation, said the name "redskins" is the most offensive term for a team, at least to his ear.
"It is the equivalent of the n-word," Gover said. "That's how it was used when I was a child. That's the name people chose to call me if they wanted to hurt my feelings, and I think that's still the case in many circumstances."
The Redskins' name and logo was part of a 17-year court battle with a group of American Indians who say the name is offensive and want it changed. In 2009, the Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal from the Native Americans based on the age of the plaintiffs. There is now a new case filed by younger plaintiffs that is due for a hearing in March at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
Former Colorado Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, who will attend the symposium, said he introduced a bill in Congress about 20 years ago to block any federal land for a stadium for any team that carried a derogatory name. He debated with then-Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke, who cited public polls supporting the name, before the Redskins opted to move to a site in Maryland.
"From my perspective, it's just a matter of basic fairness for anybody that's of a minority culture," Campbell said. "There are derogatory names for any group. Most of that has been cleaned up, there's been so much public pressure ... but unfortunately, it has not been that way for Indians."
The team did not respond to requests for comment Wednesday. Owner Daniel Snyder has been adamant about keeping the name. Last week before the Super Bowl, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell defended the Redskins.
"I think Dan Snyder and the organization have made it very clear that they're proud of that heritage and that name, and I believe fans are, too," Goodell said.
Since the 1970s, hundreds of high school and college teams have done away with Native American nicknames, though many others remain. In 2005, the NCAA announced it would ban the use of American Indian imagery and nicknames at postseason tournaments. Some schools were granted exceptions with the support of tribes, such as the Florida State Seminoles.