President Barack Obama took time off last week from trying to end the government shutdown and head off congressional Republican efforts to force the country into default on its debts, in order to give his opinion on the name of Washington’s beloved pro football team.
The team’s nickname, Redskins, has long come under fire for representing what critics say is an offensive racial stereotype. The team has consistently refused to change the name. Current Redskins owner Daniel Snyder said in May of this year that the name would “never” be changed.
The Redskins have kept the name since 1933, the second year of the team’s existence. The team was founded in 1932 in Boston and was originally named the Boston Braves.
The name was identical to that of the National League baseball team which at the time played in Boston. The pro football team shared Braves Field with the baseball team and took the same name.
But when the team moved down the street to Fenway Park, home of the American League Boston Red Sox, it changed its name to the Boston Redskins, a name that both paid homage to their new landlords while retaining the reference to Native Americans represented by the previous name.
The team moved to Washington in 1937.
Presidents have not generally ventured into the controversy over the team name, but in an interview with the Associated Press published Saturday, Obama — while not calling for the team to drop its name — said he would “think about” changing it if he owned the team.
The president’s comments provoked a quick response from team lawyer and former official in President Bill Clinton’s administration, Lanny Davis, who characterized himself as an Obama supporter.
“We at the Redskins respect everyone,” Davis said in a written statement. “But like devoted fans of the Atlanta Braves, the Cleveland Indians and the Chicago Blackhawks (from President Obama's hometown ), we love our team and its name and, like those fans, we do not intend to disparage or disrespect a racial or ethnic group.”
Earilier today, Oct. 7, representatives of the Oneida Indian Nation met in Washington to call for the name to be changed.
"This is not going away this time," said Oneida Indian Nation representative Ray Halbritter.
His comments were echoed by Kevin Gover, director of the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian.
"This word is mean, rude, impolite," Gover said, addressing his comments toward the team. “We would like you to stop using it."
SOURCES: USA Today (2), Associated Press, Wikipedia