News & Politics

Poll Finds a Majority Understand Why “Redskins” Is Offensive to Some

The poll is the latest salvo in a season-long push to get Washington’s NFL team to consider changing its name.

A majority of adults in the Washington-area say Native Americans have the right to feel insulted by the term “redskin,” according to a poll released today. The survey also finds that if the local NFL franchise that uses that term as its nickname were to change, 73 percent of fans would support the team just as much, if not more.
The poll was commissioned by the Oneida Indian Nation, an Upstate New York tribe that has been waging a publicity campaign against Washington’s football team since the beginning of the NFL season.
The tribe’s “Change the Mascot” effort has included radio advertisements in NFL markets—including Washington—urging Dan Snyder to pick a new name for his team, and a widely covered symposium last week in Georgetown that featured members of Congress, Native American activists, and academics discussing the impact of the use of a word considered to be a racial slur as the name of a professional sports organization.
“You cannot poll morality, and our hope is that Mr. Snyder will demonstrate true leadership and change the offensive name, not because of what any public opinion studies show, but because it’s the right thing to do,” Ray Halbritter, an Oneida Indian Nation official, said in a statement released with the survey. “However, this polling information is valuable because it shows that the team has nothing to fear economically by changing its name.  In fact, the data indicates that the team stands to actually gain support from its fans by finally making the right decision and changing the name.”
The Oneidas’ poll, which was conducted by SurveyUSA, is one of several about the Washington team’s name to be released in the past year, and is the most favorable toward a name change. An Associated Press survey released in April said that 79 percent of Americans say the team doesn’t need to change. Today’s poll, while building support for a name change does not ask an outrightly if the team should adopt a new moniker.
The team’s name has been scrutinized for much of the past year. President Obama said last week that if he had Snyder’s job, he would seriously consider changing the name. And recently, several football writers, including Sports Illustrated’s Peter King, have joined the ranks of publications that avoid printing the name altogether.
Snyder responded to the criticism last week. In a letter addressed to his team’s fans, he wrote that he has “listened carefully to the commentary and perspectives on all sides,” but does not want to ditch a 81-year-old name as well as his own childhood memories of attending games at RFK Stadium. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, who also grew up a Washington fan, said last week that if people are offended by the name, the league needs to listen and “make sure we’re doing what’s right.”
The Oneida Indian Nation, which sponsors the Buffalo Bills, is meeting soon with NFL executives. Snyder has been invited to the summit, but has not indicated if he will attend. Seventy-seven percent of those polled say he should.
The poll was conducted October 11-13 and queried 500 adults in the Washington area. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.5 percent.

Staff Writer

Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.