The Washington professional football team is still known as the Redskins.
A name change spurred by societal and governmental pressure seems all but inevitable at this point, after the Redskins released a statement saying the team would be conducting a “thorough review” of the moniker.
“We believe this review can and will be conducted with the best interest of all in mind,” the team’s statement concludes.
“The best interest of all”? That’s a curious choice of words.
“All” would seem to imply that there is a strong and overwhelming consensus on the offensiveness of “Redskins,” not dissimilar to the consensus against the most infamous and ugliest of racial slurs (the one that ends in a hard “R”).
But by virtually any poll, survey or study conducted, that simply doesn’t appear to be the case. At most, it’s fair to say that the nickname is polarizing. But the idea that a name change is necessary for “all”? The numbers simply don’t back that up.
The best-known survey is likely a 2016 Washington Post poll that found 9 out 10 Native Americans don’t find the “Redskins” name offensive.
The poll asked a random national sample of 504 Native American adults and was conducted via phone interviews. The margin of error was 5.5 percentage points.
According to The Post, the 2016 poll found similar results to a 2004 poll conducted by Annenberg Public Policy Center.
It’s now 2020 and quite a bit has changed in the social landscape. It’s a year where it’s considered offensive to stand for the American flag, two separate anthems will be played before NFL games for the sake of “unity,” and you’re not allowed to support the president of the United States.
A more recent survey, conducted by “market research organization” Wolvereye in 2019, along with “two other prominent research companies,” interviewed 500 people who self-identified as Native American. The method of interviewing and margins of error were not disclosed.
The Wolvereye survey took a more human approach to their survey. Instead of asking whether a person was offended by “Redskins,” it delved into what it called “emotional DNA” and asked for specific feelings on the team’s name.
The Post and the Annenberg poll both asked: “The professional football team in Washington calls itself the Washington Redskins. As a Native American, do you find that name offensive, or doesn’t it bother you?”
The Wolvereye survey instead presented interviewees with 40 options that included feelings such as “proud,” “love” and “fear.”
The findings were fascinating.
The most common emotion the survey takers cited when asked about how they felt about Redskins’ name was “proud.” The next most common was “indifferent.”
In fact, of the top five most common emotions, three of them were categorized as “positive.” That list includes the aforementioned “proud,” “content” and “satisfied.”
The only negative emotion to crack the top five was merely “annoyed.” That sure seems like a far cry from the deeply wounded emotions that detractors of the name would have you think Native Americans feel about it.
To complete the trifecta, there’s a University of California, Berkeley study published in the journal of Social Psychological and Personality Science in March.
UC Berkeley researchers said they recruited “1,000 self-identified adult Native Americans” across 50 states and representing 148 tribes using the Qualtrics online survey platform.
The study found that 49 percent of participants strongly agreed or agreed that the Redskins team name was offensive. 38 percent were not bothered by it. The rest of the participants were indifferent.
Yet again, 49 percent comes nowhere near constituting a consensus. It’s not even half.
Which is all to say, whether you want to analyze a poll, a survey or a study, the notion that “Redskins” is a horribly racist and hurtful team name is hardly the slam dunk that some would have you believe.
Is wiping out 87 years of NFL tradition really necessary to possibly placate, at most, half of the allegedly aggrieved?
In any other year, probably not. But it’s 2020, and this may very well be the new norm.