A coalition of the country’s most prominent advocacy and civil rights organizations today called on media organizations to refrain from using the offensive R-word name of the Washington NFL team during their Thanksgiving Day coverage. The Washington NFL franchise will take on the New York Giants in a high-profile, nationally broadcast game on Thursday.
Endorsees of the just-released letter include: NAACP, National Urban League, Advancement Project, Asian and Pacific Islander American Health Forum, Demos, PICO National Network, Race Forward, UnidosUS, National Congress of American Indians, Oneida Indian Nation and Change the Mascot.
“Thanksgiving is often the only major American holiday that brings Native people and their history into the national conversation. Using the holiday to promote the Washington team’s derogatory name will further marginalize Native Americans who have already experienced histories of oppression and violence,” the letter states.
“Media organizations can do their jobs by reporting on the team, but also refrain from using the slur and denigrating Native people.”
The letter goes on to highlight the substantial and tangible destruction caused by the use of the R-word. It points to social science research proving that such mascots and slurs lower self-esteem and mood among Native American youth, and also increase negative attitudes towards Native Americans among other races.
“In light of all of the evidence of destruction caused by the R-word’s use, we are hopeful that you will pledge to honor this modest request,” the letter continues. “At a time when our political debate is so polarized, media organizations should be able to agree to not explicitly promote a racial slur.”
Today’s plea to media organizations is part of Change the Mascot’s grassroots movement to educate the public about the damaging effects on Native Americans arising from the continued use of the R-word. This civil and human rights movement has helped reshape the debate surrounding the Washington team’s name and brought the issue to the forefront of social consciousness.
Since its launch, the campaign has continually garnered support from a diverse coalition of prominent advocates including elected officials from both parties, Native American tribes, sports icons, leading journalists and news publications, civil and human rights organizations and religious leaders.
A full list of Change the Mascot supporters can be found at: http://www.changethemascot.org/supporters-of-change/.
The full text of today’s letter to media organizations can read below or accessed online at:
Dear [News Organization],
On Thanksgiving Day, the National Football League has scheduled a high-profile game between the New York Giants and Washington, D.C.’s professional football team. In advance of that event, we are asking that you honor the spirit of the holiday by pledging to refrain from using the Washington team’s R-word name in your coverage of the game.
Thanksgiving is often the only major American holiday that brings Native people and their history into the national conversation. Using the holiday to promote the Washington team’s derogatory name will further marginalize Native Americans who have already experienced a history of oppression and violence. Repeating the Washington football team’s name on Thanksgiving Day encourages people across the country to perpetuate this painful racial slur.
While the Washington franchise’s management has claimed the team name honors Native Americans, nothing could be further from the truth. The name is a dictionary-defined racial slur that was screamed at Native Americans as they were dragged at gunpoint off their lands. The owner who gave the team this dishonorable name was George Preston Marshall – an infamous segregationist who played a leading role in trying to stop the NFL from integrating.
Despite what some suggest, the use of this slur is not a victimless crime. Social science research has proven that the promotion of the R-word has significantly harmed Native Americans, especially Native youth.
In a 2013 report summarizing existing research, psychologist Michael Friedman noted that the presence of Native American mascots results directly in lower self-esteem and lower mood among both Native American adolescents and young adults, as well as increases negative attitudes towards Native Americans among non-Native Americans. His report added that “the Washington mascot is uniquely destructive because it not only perpetuates the stereotypical and outdated caricature portrayed by many Native American mascots, but also promotes and justifies the use of a dictionary-defined racial slur, thus increasing risk for discriminatory experiences against Native Americans.”
In recent years, a wide array of civil rights organizations, religious leaders, civic groups and Members of Congress from both parties have called for the Washington team to change its name. To date, the team has refused to make any changes – but that insensitive intransigence does not mean that media organizations covering the team must also continue to promote this racial slur and perpetuate the problems caused by its use.
To be clear, we are not asking that you stop covering the Washington team – we are simply asking that you respect Native Americans by not using the team name. Indeed, media organizations can do their jobs by reporting on the team, but also refrain from using the slur and denigrating Native people.
In light of all of the evidence of destruction caused by the R-word’s use, we are hopeful that you will pledge to honor this modest request. At a time when our political debate is so polarized, media organizations should be able to agree to not explicitly promote a racial slur.
Asian and Pacific Islander American Health Forum
Change the Mascot
National Association for the Advancement of Colored People
National Congress of American Indians
National Urban League
Oneida Indian Nation
PICO National Network