President Obama’s Redskins Comments Put the Team and Their Lawyer on Defense

Lanny Davis says it is not fair to single out the Washington team.
The Redskins’ lawyer Lanny Davis says eight in nine Americans are not offended by the Redskins name. Photograph by Carol Ross Joynt.

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.”

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