KIOS-FM

At Washington's Training Camp, Fans Are Split On Name Change

Jul 26, 2014
Originally published on July 26, 2014 3:16 pm

Washington, D.C.'s football team has opened its training camp in Richmond, Va., just weeks after trademark registrations for its name were revoked.

In June, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office ruled that the Redskins' name is "disparaging" to Native Americans. And earlier this month, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder joined a growing list of public figures — including President Obama — who have expressed support for a name change. "I think it is an offensive name," Holder told ABC News.

Still, pressure to change the team's name hasn't stopped fans from standing by their team. For longtime supporter Pamela Cooper of Chesterfield, Va., there's nothing quite like the Redskins name.

"It's something about when you say, 'Go, Redskins!'" said Cooper, who pitched a tent near the team's training center to sell smoked barbecue to passersby. "Just won't go the same with something else."

Unwavering Loyalty

Hundreds of die-hard fans braved the rain on the training camp's first day, armed with ponchos, giant helmet-shaped umbrellas and, according to Ann Thompson of Glen Allen, Va., undying devotion to the team's name.

"We're used to 'Redskins,' you know what I'm saying?" Thompson said. "I think they should keep the name."

Richard Grice of Fredericksburg, Va., brought his own artwork for quarterback Robert Griffin III to sign after practice. Grice said he wasn't always a Washington fan and his allegiance may sway back to the Dallas Cowboys if the Washington Redskins changed their name.

"I would think about it. I would consider going back," said Grice, who does not consider the name "offensive in any type of way."

On the other side of the question are Native American groups like the National Congress of American Indians, whose resolution was cited in June's ruling by U.S. Patent and Trademark Office's Trademark Trial and Appeal Board:

[T]he term REDSKINS is not and has never been one of honor or respect, but instead, it has always been and continues to be a pejorative, derogatory, denigrating, offensive, scandalous, contemptuous, disreputable, disparaging and racist designation for Native American's [sic] and

[T]he use of the registered service marks identified in Exhibit B to this resolution by the Washington Redskins football organization, has always been and continues to be offensive, disparaging, scandalous, and damaging to Native Americans.

An appeal by the Washington team is expected but is not yet filed. For Washington fan Grace Kelly of Warrenton, Va., it's all a legal technicality that doesn't mean much.

"The trademark thing is ridiculous because the next thing you know they're going to tell us we can't wear a shirt that says 'Redskins' because it's offensive to somebody," Kelly said.

'I Don't Feel Great About The Name'

Last year, team owner Dan Snyder told USA Today that he will "never change" the team's name, which he recently described as "not an issue."

But the recent calls to change the name have given pause to lifelong Washington fan James Whisonant of Richmond.

"I still feel great about the Redskins, but I don't feel great about the name," said Whisonant, who added he's stopped singing the team's fight song "Hail to the Redskins" after concluding that the name should go.

Nicole Harris of Richmond said she's felt a similar uneasiness about the name in the wake of recent debates.

"You know if anybody feels that they're offended by it, then I think it's something we need to think about and actually change the name," Harris said.

Harris and her family sat down for lunch with fellow Richmond resident Jeff Collins at Gus' Bar and Grill in Richmond. They all met for the first time while watching the team practice.

"If [the name] offends some people, oh well," said Collins, who doesn't support changing the name. "People get offended everyday by a lot of different things."

The new friends did not see eye-to-eye on this issue, but there was common ground.

"Let's win the Super Bowl this year!" exclaimed Collins.

"I second that!" Harris added with a hearty laugh.

After losing 13 games last season, that's a dream all Washington fans can agree on.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Washington, D.C.'s pro football team has opened its training camp just a few weeks after the trademark registration for its nickname, the Redskins, was revoked. The U.S. patent office ruled the name as offensive to Native Americans. Still, pressure to change the name hasn't stopped fans from standing by their team, as NPR's Hansi Lo Wang discovered.

HANSI LO WANG, BYLINE: It's been called disparaging to Native Americans, and President Obama told the Associated Press he's okay with losing it.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I'd think about changing it.

WANG: So would Attorney General Eric Holder, who told ABC News,

ATTORNEY GENERAL ERIC HOLDER: I think the name ought to be changed. I think it is an offensive name.

WANG: But for longtime fan Pamela Cooper of Chesterfield, Virginia, there's nothing quite like the Washington Redskins.

PAMELA COOPER: There's something about when you say, Go Redskins. It just won't go the same with something else.

WANG: Cooper and Ann Thompson of Glen Allen, Virginia, braved the rain and pitched a tent near the Washington Redskins training center in Richmond. That's where they sold smoked barbecue to the hundreds of diehard fans armed with ponchos, giant helmet-shaped umbrellas and Thompson said, undying devotion to the team's name.

COOPER: We're used to Redskins. You know what I'm saying? I think they should keep the name.

RICHARD GRICE: I really don't think they should change their name. I don't see where it's offensive in any type of way or anything like that. I mean, Redskins for life, what can you say?

WANG: Although Richard Grice of Fredericksburg, Virginia, admits he wasn't always a Washington fan. So who were you a fan of before?

GRICE: Dallas Cowboys.

WANG: You've got a grimace there.

GRICE: I know right?

WANG: But he said the Dallas Cowboys would start looking more attractive if the Washington Redskins changed their name.

GRICE: I would think about it. I would consider going back.

WANG: On the other side the question is the National Congress of American Indians. They passed a resolution, calling the team name derogatory and offensive. In June, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office cited that resolution in a ruling, canceling the team's trademark registrations. An appeal by the team's owner is expected, but is not yet filed. For Washington fan Grace Kelly of Warrenton, Virginia, it's all a legal technicality that doesn't mean much.

GRACE KELLY: The trademark thing is ridiculous because the next thing you know, they're going to tell us we can't wear a shirt that says Redskins because it's offensive to somebody. And I think that's just ridiculous.

WANG: Never - is how team owner Dan Snyder responded last year to the possibility of changing the name, which he recently said was not an issue. And Constance Hollemon of Petersburg, Virginia, says she agrees.

CONSTANCE HOLLEMON: Go Redskins - HTTR - hail to the Redskins. That's right - the theme song.

(Singing) Hail to the Redskins, hail victory.

WANG: Those lyrics though, do give pause to James Whisonant, of Richmond.

JAMES WHISONANT: Matter of fact, I don't even sing the song the last two or three years. I don't sing the song anymore.

WANG: Really, you stopped singing it?

WHISONANT: I stopped singing the song, honestly.

WANG: Because?

WHISONANT: Because of that feeling.

WANG: It's a conflicted feeling, Whisonant said because he's come to the conclusion that the name should go.

WHISONANT: I still feel great about the Redskins, but I don't feel great about the name.

WANG: Nicole Harris, of Richmond, said she's felt a similar feeling in the wake of recent debates.

Should they change their name?

NICOLE HARRIS: I think they should. You know, if anybody feels that they're offended by it, then I think it's something we need to think about and actually change the name.

JEFF COLLINS: If it offends some people, oh well. People get offended everyday by a lot of different things, you know.

WANG: Jeff Collins met Nicole Harris and her family for the first time at the Washington Redskins training camp. They sat down together for lunch at a local bar, even though they don't see eye to eye on this issue.

COLLINS: Let's win the Super Bowl this year.

HARRIS: I second that.

WANG: But after losing 13 games last season, that's a dream all Washington fans can agree on.

Hansi Lo Wang, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.