Obama backs Washington Redskins name change: Is it his business?

President Obama told the AP that he would support a change for the Washington Redskins if the name offends a 'sizable group of people.'

Charles Dharapak/AP
In this photo taken Friday, President Obama speaks during an exclusive interview with The Associated Press in the White House library in Washington. Obama says he’d think about changing the name of the Washington Redskins football team if he were the owner.

President Obama has spoken up on whether the Washington Redskins should change their nickname, telling The Associated Press that if the name "was offending a sizable group of people, I'd think about changing it."

That makes Mr. Obama the 3,746th person in recent months to suggest that Redskins owner Daniel Snyder perhaps should rethink his statement that he will NEVER (yes, he even suggested the use of the capslock key) change the team's name.

OK, perhaps it hasn't been that many people, but it sure feels like it. Two respected sports journalists (Christine Brennan and Peter King) have spoken of refusing to use the nickname, which is seen as racially insensitive, and members of both Congress and the Washington City Council have introduced measures aimed at a name change (though neither is likely to succeed).

Now Obama has added his voice. But is it any of his business?

Well, it's not like Obama has started talking about the Redskins in stump speeches. He was asked a question and gave an answer. What's more, as America's first minority president, his opinion is of particular interest, in many ways.

The argument, after all, is not that the Redskins name offends everyone (because it doesn't). The argument is that it offends a specific minority, native Americans. Indeed, an AP poll found that 4 in 5 Americans don't think the nickname should be changed.

But, understandably, Obama isn't looking at it that way. By qualifying his answer, saying the team should consider a name change if the name is offensive to "a sizable group of people," he's saying this should be native Americans' call, essentially.

And that's where it gets interesting, because it's not at all clear what native Americans think. As the Redskins pointed out in their response to Obama, a 2004 Annenberg poll found that 9 of 10 native Americans said they were not bothered by the name.

In a column for ESPN, Rick Reilly also noted that several high schools with heavily native American student bodies proudly bear the Redskins nickname.

"I've talked to our students, our parents and our community about this and nobody finds any offense at all in it," said Tim Ames, the superintendent of Wellpinit schools in Washington State, which include the 91 percent native American Wellpinit High School. "'Redskins' is an honorable name we wear with pride.… In fact, I'd like to see somebody come up here and try to change it."

The Oneida Indian Nation of upstate New York is one native American group that is pushing for a name change.

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