WASHINGTON, D.C., USA — With pressure mounting against Washington's NFL team to change its name, Native American leaders voiced support for the movement on Friday and said a name change could lead to other communities making similar decisions.
Following calls from sponsors to change the name, the team announced on Friday that it would conduct a "thorough review" looking into the matter.
Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. of Cherokee Nation said that the team's announcement marked a big sign of progress after decades of discussion.
"The Redskins name was wrong when the Redskins adopted it in the '30s and it’s wrong today and it’ll be wrong tomorrow," he said. "The Redskins name is particularly offensive because for at least centuries it’s been associated with essentially a racial slur.”
The team's announcement came after sponsors like FedEx, Nike, PepsiCo, Bank of America and Nike called on the franchise to change its name.
While many other Native American leaders have called for the change, Chief Hoskin said the pressure from the business community likely led to the team's decision.
"Even though it’s sponsorships, even though it’s corporate action, even though it’s a matter of money, I think it’s still a win," he said. "I don’t think the corporations would have taken those steps had it not been for the decades of pressure.”
For the last several weeks, protests and rallies around the country have amplified calls for equality and justice for minority communities.
The NFL has not been spared and Chief Hoskin said that more Americans were seeing the harsh treatment of others.
"I think if most Americans dig a little deeper and look at the history of that term and understand that ... it still hurts when depictions of Native Americans or slurs are used in a commercial sense or we’re reduced to mascots or caricatures," Chief Hoskin said.
Aside from Washington's football team possibly changing its name, Chief Hoskin said the franchise could help encourage other small towns around the country to examine similar situations.
"As long as the Redskins were digging in their heels, we couldn’t expect the small towns to make a lot of progress on some of these things," he said. "I think because of this action, communities across America are going to have a deeper dialogue. I think they’re going to be more open to talking about this."
Other Native American groups also voiced approval of the team's announcement.
"This moment has been 87 years in the making, and we have reached this moment thanks to decades of tireless efforts by tribal leaders, advocates, citizens, and partners to educate America about the origins and meaning of the R-word,” National Congress of American Indians President Fawn Sharp said in a statement. “NCAI looks forward to immediately commencing discussions with the league and team about how they will change the team’s name and mascot, and a prompt timetable for doing so. Indian Country deserves nothing less. The time to change is now.”
The Washington football team said it now plans to gather input from around the organization, from sponsors, the NFL, and the local community.
While no timeline was offered on when a possible decision on the name could come, Chief Hoskin believed the decades calling for a new team name would lead to change.
"I think ultimately we’ll move towards erasing these kinds of offensive names," he said. "I think what happens next is more progress.”