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Cowboys but No Indians

Controversies related to The Redskins’ name.

Photograph by Flickr user Keith Allison.

The Redskins have been in Washington nearly 75 years, a period littered with name changes for team mascots deemed offensive. But the Skins have no plans to switch. Here’s a recap of controversies over the years.

1933: Boston Braves owner George Preston Marshall renames his team the Redskins, allegedly in honor of his American Indian coach, Lone Star Dietz.

1937: The Redskins come to Washington from Boston.

1968: The National Congress of American Indians begins challenging the use of Native Americans as mascots, largely at the college level. Some standouts at the time are Alcorn State University (Scalping Braves), Marquette University (Warriors, embodied by Willie Wampum), the University of Illinois (Illini, represented by Chief Illiniwek), and the University of Oklahoma (Sooners, represented by Little Red, who danced on their sidelines from 1957 to 1973).

1971: Marquette retires Willie Wampum.

1972: Stanford becomes the first school to drop its name, the Indians, and is redubbed the Cardinal.

1973: Eastern Washington changes from the Savages to the Eagles.

1974: Dartmouth, formerly the Indians, becomes the Big Green.

1978: Syracuse leaves the Saltine Warriors behind, ultimately becoming the Orange.

1991: The Twins/Braves World Series draws controversy for Atlanta fans’ signature “tomahawk chop.”

1992: A group led by activist Suzan Shown Harjo requests that the trademark on the Washington Redskins’ name and image be canceled due to their racial offensiveness.

1992: Some 3,000 protesters stand outside the Redskins/Bills Super Bowl to protest the Skins’ name.

1995: Washington Bullets owner Abe Pollin announces that he’ll change the team’s name because of its violent connotations. The last straw for Pollin is the November assassination of Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, a friend.

1997: The Bullets become the Wizards, also controversial due to KKK associations.

1999: The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board rules that the Redskins’ name is disparaging and should be changed.

2003: A US District Court rules that because the Redskins’ lawsuit was filed so many years after the trademark was issued, the complaint can’t be upheld.

2004: A University of Pennsylvania poll finds that 90 percent of Native Americans surveyed have no objection to the Skins’ name.

2005: The NCAA threatens sanctions against 18 schools with “hostile or abusive” mascots.

2007: The University of Illinois retires mascot Chief Illiniwek.

2009: A US Court of Appeals upholds the lower-court ruling denying the Skins’ name change.

2012: The University of North Dakota tries to rename the Fighting Sioux. Petitions are being reviewed.

This article appears in the March 2012 issue of The Washingtonian.

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