Civil rights groups in the US are calling on broadcasters not to use the name of a National Football League team playing in a nationally televised Thanksgiving Day game because they say it is “offensive” and “denigrating [to] Native people”.
The Washington Redskins football team will take on the New York Giants on Thursday – Thanksgiving Day in the US – in a game that will be broadcast across the country.
Civil rights and indigenous groups have called for Washington to change its name for several years, but they say using the team’s name on Thanksgiving – a national holiday that many Native Americans associate with genocide and mark as a “National Day of Mourning” – is especially harmful.
“Thanksgiving is often the only major American holiday that brings Native people and their history into the national conversation,” nearly a dozen groups said in an open letter published this week.
“Using the holiday to promote the Washington team’s derogatory name will further marginalise Native Americans who have already experienced histories of oppression and violence.”
The letter was signed by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Asian and Pacific Islander American Health Forum, National Congress of American Indians and the Oneida Indian Nation, among other organisations.
“Media organisations can do their jobs by reporting on the team, but also refrain from using the slur and denigrating Native people,” the letter continued.
Change the Mascot, a public campaign that seeks to educate the public on the adverse effects the team’s name can have on Native American youth, has led calls for Washington and other sports teams to change their team names.
In recent years, a handful of school districts across the US have banned team names that can be considered racial slurs against Native Americans. Others are also discussing potential bans.
Critics say using derogatory team names can have a negative effect on the self-worth of Native American youth in particular.
In 2013, several members of the US Congress urged the NFL and the Washington franchise to change the team’s name.
“In this day and age, it is imperative that you uphold your moral responsibility to disavow the usage of racial slurs. The usage of the word ‘redskins’ is especially harmful to Native American youth, tending to lower their sense of dignity and self-esteem,” they wrote in a letter.
NFL defends name
However, Daniel Snyder, the owner of the Washington NFL team, has staunchly defended the name.
“We will never change the name of the team,” Snyder told USA Today in 2013.
“As a lifelong Redskins fan, and I think that the Redskins fans understand the great tradition and what it’s all about and what it means, so we feel pretty fortunate to be just working on next season.”
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has also come out in support of the team’s name, which he described as “a unifying force that stands for strength, courage, pride and respect”.
“The Washington Redskins name has thus from its origin represented a positive meaning distinct from any disparagement that could be viewed in some other context,” Goodell said in a letter sent to the US lawmakers, according to ESPN.
Earlier this month, Dave Zirin, the sports editor at The Nation, said that in giving the Thanksgiving Day game to Washington, NFL owners have shown “their true colours”.
“It’s as if NFL owners, by having Washington host this game, are having their own private joke at the expense of the players, fans, and commentators who care about these issues,” Zirin wrote on November 17.
“In this season of racial dissent and dialogue over racism, the Washington team name has been erased from the discussion,” Zirin continued.
“Perhaps this Thanksgiving we can centre it exactly where it belongs, and understand that a league that celebrates racial slurs can never be an engine for racial justice.”