The long-running controversy surrounding the name of the Washington, D.C., National Football League team saw another twist in its tortuous path Thursday, as The Washington Post released the results of a new poll, suggesting that the overwhelming majority of native Americans do not find the team’s moniker offensive.
The Washington Redskins have been under pressure for many years, not least by the organization running the national campaign “Change the Mascot,” but supporters often use the results of a 2004 poll by the Annenberg Public Policy Center, which had similar findings, to justify their defense of the name.
This new survey, which, among other things, finds that 80 percent of respondents would take no offense if personally called “Redskin” by a non-native American, was greeted with delight by team owner Daniel Snyder, but met with skepticism from others.
“The Washington Redskins team, our fans and community have always believed our name represents honor, respect, and pride,” Mr. Snyder told the Post. “Today’s Washington Post polling shows Native Americans agree. We are gratified by this overwhelming support from the Native American community, and the team will proudly carry the Redskins name.”
The pollsters consulted 504 people across all 50 states and the District of Columbia, capturing a broadly consistent response across a range of identifying factors, such as age, education, income, political affiliation, or proximity to reservations.
The first question on the poll was, “Are you currently enrolled as a member with a Native American tribe?” Forty-four percent of respondents said “yes,” while 56 percent said “no.”
Some critics have cast doubt on the poll’s methodology, as the Post itself reported. Suzan Harjo, for example, lead plaintiff in the first case challenging the team’s trademark protections, rejected the results and said she disagreed that this was a “valid way of surveying public opinion in Indian Country.”
“I don’t accept self-identification. People say they’re native, and they are not native, for all sorts of reasons,” Ms. Harjo told the Post. “Those of us who are leaders in Indian Country ... know who we are representing. We also know if we are representing a minority view. And this is not the case here. Our experience is completely the opposite of the Annenberg poll and this one. I just reject the whole thing.”
There have been other polls, over the years.
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.
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.
This most recent poll by The Washington Post adds one more dimension to a debate that has so far resisted a satisfactory solution. The saga continues.