Change the Mascot Campaign sees success with Washington’s NFL team
Seven years after Change the Mascot Campaign was created, the NFL’s team in Washington will retire its name and mascot.
The campaign was created by Oneida Indian Nation Representative Ray Halbritter. From the onset, the Washington Redskins were a focus for the effort.
Halbritter commended the change in a statement Monday, praising the league and team owner Daniel Snyder.
“This is a good decision for the country — not just Native peoples — since it closes a painful chapter of denigration and disrespect toward Native Americans and other people of color,” Halbritter said. “Future generations of Native youth will no longer be subjected to this offensive and harmful slur every Sunday during football season.”
Halbritter made national headlines for the nationwide campaign in 2013. He met with NFL officials in New York City and Washington, D.C. that October, and followed those meetings with a visit to the White House in November, where he presented a Cooperstown High School sports jersey to then-President Barack Obama.
The Oneida Nation had donated $10,000 for new sports jerseys at the school, which changed its name from Redskins to Hawkeyes.
When the Oneida Nation launched the campaign, one of its first actions was to place advertisements on sports radio in Washington. Those advertisements included a call for NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to join the campaign against the name and a subsequent advertisement on a dictionary definition of redskin, which defined it as an offensive term.
Change the Mascot also aired television advertisements in major TV markets during the NBA Finals in 2014, which took aim at Washington’s NFL team. Another television advertisement was aired before the Super Bowl in 2015.
In statements since its founding, Change the Mascot has focused on awareness and advocated change, while commending teams and schools changing names or logos with offensive imagery or meaning.
“We have made clear from the start that this movement was never about political correctness, but seeking to prevent unnecessary harm to our youth, since we know from social scientists the many harmful effects this mascot has had on Native Americans’ self-image,” Halbritter said.
Change the Mascot commended the Cleveland Indians when the team dropped Chief Wahoo, a logo and mascot the campaign called offensive, from its branding and uniforms in 2018. It offered similar support for legislation banning the term Redskins as a mascot in California, Colorado and other states, as well as individual school districts around the country.
High school mascots
The athletic teams at Canandaigua Academy, southeast of Rochester, have been called the Braves since at least the 1940s. And in the early decades of that nickname, the imagery used by the school at games was stereotypical.
But over the last 20 years, changes have been enacted, the result of several conversations that have taken place to discuss the use of Braves.
School administrators met with G. Peter Jemison of nearby Ganondogan State Historical Site, which explores Seneca Nation history and culture, to discuss how the district might better present itself. The result is that the Braves nickname remains, but the use of a human likeness as a logo has stopped. The district also amplified local Native American history in its curriculum.
Currently, the official district logo prominently features a wampum belt, an important part of Native American culture in the Northeast used during ceremonies. Made of beads, the belt has large standing in local history because of The Great Chain belt the Washington administration had made for the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois Confederacy) to be presented at the 1794 signing of The Canandaigua Treaty. Also known as the Pickering Treaty, it established peace and friendship between a young United States and the Six Nations and is recognized by the two nations to this day.
In mid-June, when Brighton High School near Rochester announced it was changing its nickname (dropping the Barons), Canandaigua administrators were asked about the status of Braves as a nickname and said nothing official was being discussed.
Other districts, such as Oriskany Central School District in Oneida County, still use the Redskins name and an Indian mascot.
A new bill in Albany would give school districts three years to change any race-based team names or face losing state funding.
Sen. Pete Harckham, D-South Salem, Westchester County, introduced the legislation last week that would apply to any school with a mascot name that is “derived from a specific race or ethnicity,” or based on characteristics of a race or ethnicity.
Any district that doesn’t comply would forfeit their state aid indefinitely.
“As we look into the future of New York state, it is vital that we discontinue these racial and insensitive practices,” Harckham’s legislative memo reads.
A new chapter
The labor of advocacy work by Change the Mascot and other groups, such as the National Congress of American Indians, bore fruit in recent weeks.
Washington first removed a monument to original team owner George Preston Marshall in June. Marshall opposed integration of the team, originally the Boston Braves, which he renamed the Redskins and moved to Washington.
On July 3, the team announced it would review the team’s name, “In light of recent events around our country and feedback from our community.”
A statement on Monday made clear the Redskins name would be retired, though a replacement has yet to be selected. Snyder and Coach Ron Rivera were mentioned as working on the new name and design.
The announcement allowed Change the Mascot to take a victory lap on the movement’s focus since its inception.
“Today marks the start of a new chapter for the NFL and the Washington franchise, beginning a new legacy that can be more inclusive for fans of all backgrounds,” Halbritter said in a statement.