Let’s Talk About That Infamous 2004 ‘Redskins’ Poll

Another day, another round of skirmishes over the Redskins name. Today’s sally is led by Tom Garrett, founding father of a “culture and society” blog called TheAxisofEgo.com, whose post for that site got a signal boost by being re-posted as a “Special to” over on Hogs Haven.

Garrett offers a lengthy, sesquipedalian defense of the Redskins team name, marshaling various avenues of attack on those who want change, and I recommend that you go read the entire thing to understand the subtle nuances of his myriad points, because I’m not recapping them here.

Especially since, for me, all those carefully reasoned points are completely undermined by one paragraph in the middle, which I’ll reproduce below:

Then what do we make of the fact that the only comprehensive survey conducted among the Native American population as to the offensiveness of “Redskins” showed very little opposition? The poll, from 2004, found that 91% of Native Americans found the name to be acceptable, while only the remaining 9% found it to be offensive.

Making the same assumption that Garrett does in his following paragraph –- that the math has not changed in the intervening years –- here is what we make from that information: 9% of a minority group finds the name offensive. If we use 2010 U.S. Census data and assume that the folks surveyed were representative of the entire population, we can further make a specific number of Native Americans that consider the name offensive –- something like 469,000.

So I guess the anti-name-change argument based on that poll boils down to this: “Some people care an awful lot about this issue, but it’s a small enough number that I’m totally okay ignoring them.” This creates the impression that there is some objective mathematical point at which “enough” people care, and that is an asinine idea. If “most” don’t care, then SOME do. And “some,” which is not “none,” is too many for me.

Also, a few notes specific to that poll, conducted in 2004 by the Annenberg Public Policy Data Center and popularized via AP story:

– The poll only covers “768 Indians,” which is not a particularly compelling sample size either way. (According to the survey’s methodology they spoke to 65,000 random adults, 768 of whom self-identified as “Indians or Native Americans”.) The question that was put to them, in case you’re curious, was “The professional football team in Washington calls itself the Washington Redskins. As a Native American, do you find that name offensive or doesn’t it bother you?” This guy has some issues with the specific polling methodology that are beyond what I feel like going into here.

– The choice of the word “offensive” allows people to make idiotically reductive arguments about the Celtics and Vikings and Yankees and Packers as names that some people might find “offensive”. The people who oppose the Redskins name –- the actual activists who fight it in court and protest it at the Super Bowl, not the media who covers them – -find it things like “demeaning” and “insulting” and “belittling” and “derogatory,” none of which apply to the other examples.

– Ultimately, one way to look at this is to say, “You guys! 90% of Native Americans are okay with the name! HIGH FIVE!,” which is how the AP spun it in their story linked above. And then there’s the other way to look at it, which is to say, “Holy crap, ONE out of every 10 Native Americans polled finds this name offensive!” You can guess which way I skew.

I am not trying to change anyone’s mind. I am not trying to speak for anyone. I am not looking for things to get offended about. I do not disagree that some people seem to be grandstanding to get facetime based on this issue. I just wish my favorite team had a name that didn’t make ANYONE feel denigrated. That’s all.

(Redskins mascot image taken from a previous Mr. Irrelevant post.)

25 thoughts on “Let’s Talk About That Infamous 2004 ‘Redskins’ Poll”

  1. Also “do you find that name offensive or doesn’t it bother you” is 2 questions that aren’t really asking the same thing. In particular, I think “does it bother you” is probably far less likely than “is this offensive” to get an affirmative response, and it’s also at the end of the sentence rather than the middle, so it’s not surprising that that would be the overriding question that people answer.

  2. “I just wish my favorite team had a name that didn’t make ANYONE feel denigrated. That’s all.”
    This sentence sums up everything I feel.

  3. Pretty sure you could find more people who find the Wizards name offensive. Imagine the amount of Christian parents that won’t let their kids watch Harry Potter. Does that mean they should change their name also?

    Point is, if your judging by politically correctness then you can never win.

  4. Two points:

    1) Again, in my mind there is a difference between “offensive” and “demeaning” or “derogatory”. Your imaginary people might OBJECT to “Wizards,” but it does not denigrate them, their culture, their race, or their heritage.

    2) You appear to be dismissing the ACTUAL objections of real human beings because of what some imaginary straw men you’ve concocted might or might not hypothetically do. If these 400,000+ Wizards objectors exist, where are they? Where are the protests? The lawsuits? The op-eds? The symposia?

    I also think that dismissing the opinions of 400,000+ people as “political correctness” is kind of odd, but maybe that’s just me.

  5. “Almost as striking as the uniformity of opinion is the condescending rhetoric that many of these folks use to illustrate just how superior they are. That’s a hallmark of a modern journalism where the opinionated have become so confident in their own views that civility is optional at best.”

    Taken directly from the above brilliant piece.

  6. Did you find the name so off-putting while working for them?
    Surely you wouldn’t have handed someone a business card attaching your good name to such a disparaging one.

  7. There is no way to say with a straight face that the name Redskins isn’t derogatory. You can defend keeping the name any way you want, but any defense comes down to “I am ok with a name that denigrates a race of people because [X].”

    X can be tradition, money, the small number of people it denigrates, other names are offensive too, etc.

    Bottom line is that Redskins is a racially derogatory name for a minority group that has suffered a slow genocide.

  8. @ D. Fox – I did find the name off-putting while working for the team, but I rooted for the team even though I wished they would change the name and I didn’t see a problem working for the team under the same circumstances. There were many occasions where I did not agree with the official team position on things — the sign ban, for example, or the investment in Albert Haynesworth — and didn’t address it in print. In most cases, I would discuss my concerns with appropriate people in the organization; sometimes it brought about change, most of the time it did not. This was another such occasion. Maybe I should’ve tried to do more, but I’m not sure it’s even feasible to consider.

    Also, I’m not sure how the quote you’ve excerpted from the piece in any way relates to our conversation here. Have I been somehow uncivil to you?

  9. Matt, you have not and it was not directed towards you. Moreso towards the arguement in its entirety. I felt like he was dead on in his point of every journalist being in lockstep on the issue.

    Though, reading between the lines later in the blog piece, I would probably have a lot to disagree with him politically.

  10. Matt, Im not sure I understand your logic of working for a team name that you personally found offensive. Cynically, it’s hard to agree with your logic. Perhaps you were working the good fight from within and we could never know.

  11. Not sure I understand the point of even discussing, besides getting page views. Snyder will never change the name because he is an asshat. Until he dies, we’re stuck with Redskins. Sad.

  12. @D. Fox – Not sure that I can explain it to your satisfaction, honestly, but I was comfortable with the decision then and I don’t regret it in hindsight. Leaving aside all the non-name-related reasons I took the job: Refusing to work there would have made no difference in the team name. Choosing to work there meant that I could maybe, possibly have some effect. (I didn’t, but oh well.) Like I say, I made my own peace with it, even if I’m not explaining it well now.

  13. mikeyvanilli-

    optimism is a gift i have yet to receive in my tenure of skins fandom. short of a christmas eve nighttime visit from jimeney cricket, it’s not likey out local plutocrat lumberjack will ever realize his true nature.

  14. The controversy over the name Redskins is not as cut and dry as some would like to think. When someone expresses that they don’t think its offensive they are chastised for being white and having the gall to opine what another race thinks about the word. That’s not what they are doing, they are responding to other people, mostly white, opining that it is offensive.

    The Washington Football Collective is located next to DC where protests are fairly easy and fairly common (World Bank, Gaza Violence, IMF, Occupy DC, etc), yet there has been no such protest by the people who are supposedly offended by the name. When I see a group of Native Americans bigger than the Martha Burk Augusta crew stand up and say, “This is offensive” then I will be firmly in the “Change it” camp. Until then, quit telling me that the science is in and the debate is over.

  15. Thanks (sincerely) for linking to the article. As for the survey thing – I don’t think it’s determinative either way. I think you can make an argument (as Mike Wise does by implication) that, even if the Native American population is mostly ok with the name, it should still go away. On the flip side, you can also make the argument that

    I’m not saying either argument is convincing, just that I was never intending to imply that the survey was the end of the conversation one way or the other. The part in the article about the survey was specifically in response to the idea put forth by some of the sources I cited that it doesn’t matter whether a non-Native American is offended or not. My point was that if, hypothetically, they *aren’t* offended, where do we go from there?

    As I said a bit later (mostly rhetorically): “Perhaps it’s only 80% or 70% or 60% now, but who knows? *If* that’s the case, though, shouldn’t these columnists (themselves predominantly white) drop the issue, by their own logic?”

    Thanks again. I really enjoy this blog, btw.

  16. Part of my comment above got deleted (user error on my part). It should read, “…you can also make the argument that a group being offended by something shouldn’t be enough by itself for the offending image or words to disappear.” Sorry. I am bad at internetz.

  17. Seems to me, a business shouldn’t name their products based on the changing views of any group of people. The Redskins brand is worth something. I doubt any of this will change the name until there is enough people who change their purchasing habits.

    Since there are very few Native Americans who attend or watch your team, I doubt it will change ever.

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