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Skin in the Name

American Football is a cultural phenomenon, capturing the attention of consumers unlike any other sport in the US. In analyzing the name of an NFL team, we see how consumers are truly effected by sports culture, and what it means for businesses.

Editor’s Note: This post is part of our Big Ideas series, a column highlighting the innovative thinking and thought leadership at IIeX events around the world. Ryan Baum will be speaking at IIeX North America 2020 in Austin, April 14-16. If you liked this article, you’ll LOVE IIeX North America. Click here to learn more.

Over the years there’s been a great deal of public debate over whether the Washington Redskins should change their team name, and yet up till now, there’s been barely any research into understanding how Native Americans themselves feel about the team name Redskins. We along with two other prominent market research companies teamed up to do precisely that by interviewing a representative sample of 500 people who self-identified as Native Americans across the United States. Our study dug far deeper than any prior research done on the subject. The study’s objectives were not only to understand how Natives feel about the team name Redskins but also to identify why they feel the way they do. 

Emotional DNA

In testing more than 40 emotions, the number one emotion that Native Americans felt towards the name Redskins was proud. There was a lot of mixed emotion but on the whole natives felt more positive overall than they did negative towards the name. Furthermore, in order to draw comparisons, we tested various other Native American themed teams including the Atlanta Braves, Chicago Blackhawks, Cleveland Indians, and Kansas City Chiefs. While natives felt overall positive towards the name Redskins, every other team name analyzed outperformed the name Redskins in overall likability.

Next, we examined why Native Americans felt the emotions they did. Natives who ‘liked’ the name Redskins (41%), liked it largely because they felt it honors or represents their heritage, and it’s a historic name that has been around for a long time. Natives who ‘disliked’ the name Redskins (27%), disliked it largely because they perceived the name to be racist and derogatory. Then there were other natives who felt ‘indifferent’ (32%) and simply weren’t bothered by the name.


Next, we wanted to take a deeper look into the emotion offended given that it’s the emotion that arises most often by people making the case for changing the team name. When looking at the Native American population, a majority (68%) were not offended by the name Redskins. They weren’t offended predominantly because they saw it as just a name, they don’t think it’s intended to be harmful, and again it honors or represents their heritage. Moreover, Native Americans who weren’t offended believe that too many people are overly sensitive. Natives who felt offended towards the name were offended largely because they felt there’s a double standard (wouldn’t be tolerable with other ethnicities), it’s insensitive to a long history of suffering, and again they considered the name as derogatory and racist. Of the Native Americans who were offended by the team name, a majority (54%) were also offended by the team’s logo. Natives who were offended by the Redskins logo were offended largely because they perceived it to be an inaccurate portrayal of their people, and yet again they viewed it as derogatory and racist. Native Americans who were not offended by the logo weren’t offended by it principally because they perceived it as just a picture, they saw no negative connotation, and thought that the logo illustrates pride.

Changing the Name

More than a two-thirds majority of Native Americans (68%) favor keeping the team name Redskins as-is. Natives who prefer holding onto the name, want to keep it for many of the same reasons; because it’s a historic name that been around for a long time, they think too many people are overly sensitive, they view it as just a name, and believe it honors and represents their heritage. Natives who would like the name changed want it replaced because they believe there are more appropriate name alternatives to choose from, and once again they view it as derogatory, racist, and offensive. Another interesting finding was that younger Native Americans (ages 18-34) were statistically more likely to believe the name should be changed than older respondents (ages 35+). There were no gender differences observed.

What’s Next?

While the Redskins team owner Daniel Snyder is on record saying, “I’ll never change the name of the Redskins”, we still wanted to find out if a happier medium exists. Some Native Americans want the name changed because they consider it offensive, while others want to preserve it because they feel it honors and represents their heritage. For that reason, we crafted a fictitious name, Washington Warriors which would achieve both – changing the name to something that would be less offensive while simultaneously honoring or representing Native American heritage. When testing the fictitious name Warriors against the current name Redskins, more Natives (39%) favored preserving the Redskins name than changing it to Warriors (34%) showcasing the value of tradition and the Redskins storied history. 

The intention of this study was not to offer our opinion, it was present facts and inform the general public about how Native Americans themselves feel about the team name Redskins. Now people have more information at hand when forming their own opinions as to whether the Redskins should change their team name. One thing that was made clear through this study is that there’s no situation that will satisfy everyone. But then again, when it comes to Washington, when has there ever been a situation where everyone was satisfied?

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One response to “Skin in the Name

  1. This article does a nice job of portraying the importance of intent as a part of the meaning imparted to words. In and of itself, the term REDSKIN is not offensive. It’s the meaning imposed with it’s intent; whether that be laudatory or demeaning. The same could be said for many racial or religious terms (recognizing that some are just out-of bounds).

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Ryan Baum

Ryan Baum

CEO, Wolvereye