Adidas added its name to a growing chorus of discontent over the use of Native American names and mascots in American sports.
The German sports apparel company this week released a plan at the White House Tribal Nations Conference to encourage schools to change mascots or other symbols representing Native Americans in derogatory ways.
Adidas says it will give free design assistance for institutions agreeing to switch their logos and “who want to change their identity to ensure the transition is not cost prohibitive.”
“Sports have the power to change lives,” said Eric Liedtke, an adidas board member.
The company said there are 2,000 high schools still using Native American names and symbols out of the country’s more than 27,000.
The advocacy group Change the Mascot praised adidas’ announcement as a “tremendous display of corporate leadership” and encouraged other companies to follow suit, including FedEx, whose name is affixed to the Washington Redskins stadium.
“This remarkable stand against racism by adidas illustrates that the issue of ending the use of the R-word is not going away, but is instead gaining momentum as people understand the damaging impacts of this racial slur,” the Change the Mascot statement reads.
The owner of the Washington NFL franchise, Daniel Snyder, has refused to change the team’s name or its logo despite a barrage of criticism from Native Americans and rights groups. Mr. Snyder also has had the support of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, who noted the name’s ability to bring fans together.
Last year, Snyder told ESPN that his team’s name is a term of honor and respect. He cited William Henry “Lone Star” Dietz, the team’s first coach and namesake, and Walter “Blackie” Wetzel, a former president of the National Congress of American Indians and chairman of the Blackfeet Nation, who helped design and approve the team’s logo.
A June 2014 Rasmussen Reports poll found 60 percent of respondents said the team should not change its name. Similarly, a September 2014 poll conducted by Langer Research for ESPN found 71 percent in favor of keeping the name and that 68 percent think the name is not disrespectful of Native Americans, as The Christian Science Monitor reported.
How do Native Americans today feel about the name?
The Center for Indigenous Peoples Studies at California State University in San Bernardino surveyed 400 individuals, 98 of them Native Americans, and found that 67 percent of Native Americans agreed the “Redskins team name is a racial or racist word and symbol.” Whites were 32.8 percent in agreement that the name was racial or racist.
Adidas’ North American president, Mark King, said that the idea behind the decision to offer free design changes was that sports teams – often viewed as the heart of a community – should be inclusive to all.
“It’s important to create a climate that feels open to everyone,” Mr. King said.
High schools wishing to amend their mascots can email Adidas at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This report contains material from the Associated Press.