New Pressure on Redskins Brand

It’s been a rough few weeks for a certain football team from Washington, DC — on the field, sure, but especially off.

Pressure has been mounting from several quarters for the Washington Redskins to drop its name, which is offensive to many inside and outside the Native American community. A growing number of mainstream media outlets have opted to boycott the name, refusing to run “Redskins” in print.  The Oneida Indian Nation of New York today released its fourth in a series of nationwide radio advertisements calling for irascible team owner Dan Snyder to drop the moniker.

Even the president suggested it was time for the Redskins to rebrand.

“If I were the owner of the team and I knew that there was a name of my team — even if it had a storied history — that was offending a sizeable group of people, I’d think about changing it,” President Barack Obama said in an interview the Associated Press ran on Saturday.

“I think all these mascots and team names related to Native Americans, Native Americans feel pretty strongly about it. And I don’t know whether our attachment to a particular name should override the real, legitimate concerns that people have about these things.”

The Redskins’ attorney, former Clinton aide Lanny J. Davis, responded to Obama by pointing to the Cleveland Indians. (Never mind the fact that the “but our friends do it too” defense has never exactly been the most logically sound.)

“We at the Redskins respect everyone,” Davis said in a 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.”

As if on cue, the National Congress of American Indians released an image yesterday that provides a little context – and speaks to the visual power of branding. The focus of the NCAI’s ire is the baseball team Davis pointed to in his defense. And the gist is awfully familiar: the Cleveland Indians, as a brand, is flat out insensitive.

As proof, the NCAI placed the Indians’ logo along side similar-looking logos for fake teams. Next to the New York Jews and the San Francisco Chinamen, the Indians look right at home:



Branding experts have told Digiday that they expect the Redskins name to stick, unless pressure from Native Americans reaches a tipping point.

“If it’s offensive to Native Americans, then get rid of it,” said Ronald Goodstein, a sports marketing expert and professor at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business (in the Redskins’ hometown).

Your move, Dan Snyder.

Robert J. Daveant /

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