For years, the National Football League’s Washington, D.C. team and its owner Dan Snyder have been perfectly content to ignore the growing furor around the use of deeply offensive monikers and mascots for sports teams, watching from afar as high schools and universities around the country abandon their own racist team names.
But now, those protests are taking hold right in their own backyard. Last week, Green Acres School, a K-through-8 primary school in the DC suburb of Bethesda, announced that the logo and name of the Washington football team would not be permitted on school grounds, part of a new policy that prohibits students and staff from donning apparel with imagery that “disparages a race of people.”
According to Bethesda Magazine, there is at least one Native American family with children enrolled in the private school, and the frequent display of the team name and logo was causing undue distress.
Green Acres School’s decision comes a year after the student government at Sidwell Friends School — the prestigious secondary school in Northwest D.C. that has educated the children of presidents for decades, including the Obama daughters — passed a resolution banning Washington Football Team apparel from the school premises.
“We have reached the consensus that Washington Football Team apparel (i.e. clothing with the team’s logo or official name, as long as it contains the word “Redskins”) is in direct violation of our dress code, and should be enforced like any other violation,” wrote the student government in their resolution. The school’s administration fully supported the decision, which went into effect last year.
The movement against offensive team nicknames extends far beyond the capital region. Just this week, the University of Illinois announced — albeit reluctantly — it will end the practice of playing “war chant” music at sporting events on campus. Several national news outlets, including USA Today and Sports Illustrated, no longer use the team name in their coverage of Washington football. Sports apparel giant Adidas launched a campaign in 2015 offering financial assistance and its in-house design team to any high school in the country that wanted to change the name of their sports teams.
But Snyder and the rest of the team’s front office have steadfastly refused to even entertain the prospect of changing the franchise’s name. Snyder has repeatedly insisted that the name is meant to “honor” Native American heritage (an argument debunked by the team’s own founder), and has ignored the pleas of actual Native Americans who have urged him — in letters, national ad campaigns, and to his face — to change the name. The team has also hired a small army of Republican consultants to advise them on how to deflect criticism surrounding the name.
The team did score a significant victory earlier this summer when the Supreme Court ruled, in an unrelated case, that the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) couldn’t deny or rescind a trademark strictly on the basis of offensive language, citing first amendment rights. In 2014, the PTO announced they were cancelling six of the team’s trademarks on the grounds that they contained offensive words and imagery.