The Washington Redskins’ announcement Friday that they would begin “a thorough review of the team’s name” is a potential culmination to years of protest and defiance over a nickname that many Native Americans and other advocates for change consider deeply offensive.
A look at the history of the team and its name:
1769 The first known use of the word “redskin,” in the papers of Sir William Johnson. The Oxford English Dictionary says the word is “frequently considered offensive.” Nicknames with references to Native Americans date to the 1850s in American sports.
1932 The National Football League awards a franchise to Boston under an ownership group that includes George Preston Marshall. The team is dubbed the Braves, because it plays at Braves Field, home of baseball’s Boston Braves.
1933 For its second season, the team moves to Fenway Park and changes its nickname to the Redskins. Possibly this is in part to reflect in the popularity of the two baseball teams in town, the Braves and Red Sox. For a game against the Bears, Marshall tells his players to apply face paint.
1936 The Redskins qualify for the championship game, but Marshall, unhappy with the number of fans at games in Boston, moves the game to the Polo Grounds in New York (the Redskins lose). The next year he moves the team to Washington, where they keep the Redskins name.
1968 Movements begin to re-examine and perhaps change Indian-based nicknames for sports teams. Dartmouth students ask to change its nickname from Indians. Dartmouth drops the name in 1974, and some other colleges follow.
1991 The Atlanta Braves’ trip to the World Series and its fans use of a tomahawk chop gesture brings new attention and criticism to Indian-themed teams. The next year, with the Redskins and Kansas City Chiefs under pressure, Commissioner Paul Tagliabue said: “In the context of sports, those nicknames are extremely positive. You think of great players and great rivalries.”
Clyde Bellecourt, a Chippewa who is executive director of the American Indian Movement, said, “We’re trying to convince people we’re human beings and not mascots.”
1997 Miami of Ohio changes its nickname from Redskins to Redhawks.
1999 The United States Patent and Trademark Office rules that the nickname “Redskins” is disparaging, and revokes the teams’ trademarks. But in 2003, the ruling is overturned on appeal.
Also in 1999, Daniel Snyder buys the team. Like his predecessor, Jack Kent Cooke, he resists calls to change the nickname, as do many of the team’s fans.
2013 A symposium at the Smithsonian on racial stereotypes in sports is critical of the nickname, sparking another round of scrutiny. The team defends itself in a series of articles on its website, noting that “many high school student-athletes have pride in calling themselves Redskins.”
President Obama said, “I don’t know whether our attachment to a particular name should override the real legitimate concerns that people have about these things.”
But Commissioner Roger Goodell says the nickname is a “unifying force that stands for strength, courage, pride and respect.”
2014 The Patent Office again rules to cancel the Redskins’ trademark registrations. In 2017, the Supreme Court rules unanimously that the government may not deny a trademark for a potentially offensive name.
Also in 2014, the editorial board of The Washington Post joins several other newspapers in deciding not to use the name Redskins, although the paper’s news pages continue to use it. (The Portland Oregonian was one of the first to bar the name in 1991.)
2019 The Cleveland Indians of Major League Baseball drop their mascot Chief Wahoo, who has been criticized as a racist caricature, but keep their nickname.
2020 A memorial to the former owner Marshall is removed from in front of the team’s old home, RFK Stadium, by the city of Washington.
Mayor Muriel Bowser said the Redskins nickname was “an obstacle” to a new stadium for the team in Washington.
FedEx, the title sponsor of the team’s current stadium in Maryland, calls on the team to change its name.