Dan Snyder’s Washington Redskins are feeling increasingly put upon by the push by some Native American groups to force the team to change its name, says the team’s lawyer in the dispute. President Obama was the latest to voice his concern about the racist tinge of “Redskins,” saying over the weekend that if he were the team’s owner he would “think about” changing the name. On Monday morning, the Redskins’ lawyer, Lanny Davis, responded, “We wonder why the protests are just about our 80-year-old Washington Redskins—and not all the other teams. Is there a media magnet here in Washington, you think?” He also emphasized that companies that support the Redskins have not balked at the name. “FedEx shareholders just voted to support keeping the name,” he said. “Not one sponsor has complained.”
Davis, in an e-mail exchange with Washingtonian, pointed out that the Redskins are just one of several sports teams using a nickname of Native American derivation. “We are no different than fans of the Cleveland Indians or Chicago Blackhawks or the ‘tomahawk-chopping’ Atlanta Braves,” he said. We know President Obama loves his hometown Chicago Blackhawks, winner of the 2013 NHL Stanley Cup, and has never suggested a name change for that team.
The Associated Press asked President Obama about the Redskins name in a wide-ranging interview. “Obviously people get pretty attached to team names, mascots,” said the President. “I don’t think there are any Redskins fans that mean offense. I’ve got to say if I were the owner of the team and I knew that there was a name of my team . . . in . . . if . . . it had a storied history, that was offending a sizable group of people I’d think about changing it. . . . I don’t know whether our attachment to a particular name should override the real, legitimate concerns that people have about these things.”
Davis, in one of several e-mails, said the Redskins agreed with the President, if he meant that the team should consider all Native-Americans feelings. Citing a (by now familiar) 2004 poll from the Annenberg Institute that found “nine out of ten Native Americans were not offended by the name,” Davis said, “President Obama said it would have to be a ‘sizable group’ to cause a name change—and we agree with President Obama, therefore, that on that basis the Redskins team name should not be changed.” He said the figure for all Americans is eight out of nine according to a 2013 AP poll.
We also asked Davis about the recent comments by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell in two radio interviews, one of them with local 106.7 FM. While earlier, particularly in a letter to Congress, Goodell appeared to firmly back the position of Redskins owner Dan Snyder, who has said he will “never” change the name, in the radio interviews there was the slightest pivot. “If we are offending one person, we need to be listening and making sure that we’re doing the right things to try to address that,” he said, adding, “We’ll find a solution.”
Davis said the idea that Goodell had softened his stance is pure media spin. “It is inaccurate Goodell changed positions,” he said. “Never, not one word, did he say he supported name change. If you get him to say he favors name change, I will buy you a huge dinner.”