Leaked Letter to NFL by Native American Leaders Demands Immediate Action on Redskins Name

Sent to commissioner Roger Goodell, corporate stakeholders and elected officials

a man in a red football jersey number 7 that says haskins jr
Washington quarterback Dwayne Haskins said he supports renaming the team the Redtails in honor of the Tuskegee Airmen. Getty Images
Headshot of Mary Emily O

A letter sent to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell today, which can be read in full below, demands immediate action to change the name of the league’s Washington Redskins team.

The campaign to change the Washington team’s name—a double-edged sword that is not only a derogatory slur but also refers to a bleak period of state-sponsored genocide against Native Americans—has been going on for decades. However, it reached a fever pitch last week after Adweek published a letter from investors worth $620 billion asking FedEx, PepsiCo and Nike to divest from the franchise unless it changes its name.

After Adweek published the investor letter on Wednesday, FedEx announced that it would ask the team to review the name. With FedEx chairman and CEO Fred Smith a partial owner of the franchise, that put pressure on the team from within in an unprecedented way. Over the July 4 weekend, it was reported that Smith, along with two other investors, are looking to sell their stakes in the team.

On Friday, Redskins majority owner Dan Snyder and coach Ron Rivera issued a statement saying they would consider a change. Renewed awareness about Native mascots began to reach into other leagues as well, with the MLB’s Cleveland Indians saying the team would consider a new name.

Fans, sports commentators and even players spent much of the past week suggesting new names for the franchise. After Friday’s announcement, Redskins quarterback Dwayne Haskins Jr. tweeted that he likes the idea of renaming the team the Washington Redtails.

The fast-moving controversy seems to offer a new update every few hours. Earlier today, President Donald Trump tweeted that the campaign to retire Native mascots, which has long been led by Native American communities, is driven by “weakness” and a desire to appear “politically correct.”

Today’s new letter to Goodell is signed by plaintiffs from two previous lawsuits against the NFL and the team over the name, and by the leaders of the nation’s largest Native American advocacy groups.

Adweek has contacted the NFL and the Washington franchise but did not receive a comment before publication.

July 6, 2020

Roger Goodell, Commissioner National Football League
280 Park Avenue
New York, NY 10017 roger.goodell@nfl.com

Dear Mr. Goodell,

The undersigned are Native American leaders and organizations that have worked tirelessly and substantively for over half a century to change the racist name of the Washington team. We appreciate the statements made in recent days regarding the league and the team’s intention to revisit the name, but we are deeply concerned that the process or decision to rename is being made in absence of any discussion with the concerned leadership.

Specifically, we, the undersigned, request that the NFL immediately:

  1. Require the Washington NFL team (Owner- Dan Snyder) to immediately change the name R*dsk*ns, a dictionary defined racial slur for Native Peoples.
  2. Require the Washington team to immediately cease the use of racialized Native American branding by eliminating any and all imagery of or evocative of Native American culture, traditions, and spirituality from their team franchise including the logo. This includes the use of Native terms, feathers, arrows, or monikers that assume the presence of Native American culture, as well as any characterization of any physical attributes.
  3. Cease the use of the 2016 Washington Post Poll and the 2004 National Annenberg Election Survey which have been repeatedly used by the franchise and supporters to rationalize the use of the racist r-word name. These surveys were not academically vetted and were called unethical and inaccurate by the Native American Journalist Association as well as deemed damaging by other prominent organizations that represent Native Peoples. The NFL team must be held accountable to the various research studies conducted by scientists and scholars which find stereotypical images, names and the like are harmful to Native youth and the continued progress of the wellbeing of Native Peoples.
  4. Cease the use of the offensive, racial slur name “R*dsk*ns” immediately, and encourage journalists, writers and reporters to use the term in print only by using asterisks “R*dsk*ns” and to refer to the term verbally as the “r-word”.
  5. Ban all use of Native imagery, names, slur names, redface, appropriation of Native culture and spiritually as well as violence toward Native Peoples from the League.
  6. Apply the NFL’s “zero tolerance” for on-field use of racial and homophobic slurs to all races and ethnic groups, especially Native Peoples.
  7. Complete a full rebranding of the Washington team name, logo, mascot, and color scheme, to ensure that continuing harm is not perpetuated by anyone.

Finally, we note that the above items are non-negotiable and not subject to consultation or dialogue “processes”, however, we expect the NFL to engage in a robust, meaningful reconciliation process with Native American movement leaders, tribes, and organizations to repair the decades of emotional violence and other serious harms this racist team name has caused to Native Peoples.


Suzan Shown Harjo, Lead Plaintiff, Harjo v. Pro Football, Inc; President, The Morning Star Institute; Former Executive Director, National Congress of American Indians

Amanda Blackhorse, Lead Plaintiff, Blackhorse v. Pro Football, Inc.

S. James Anaya, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights of Indigenous Peoples, 2008-2015; Dean and University Distinguished Professor, University of Colorado Law School

Jodi Archambault, Special Assistant to the President, White House Domestic Policy Council, 2009-2015

Notah Begay, PGA TOUR winner, Founder, NB3 Foundation

Joann K. Chase, Former Executive Director, National Congress of American Indians

Philip J. Deloria, Leverett Saltonstall Professor of History, Harvard University, and Author, Playing Indian and Indians in Unexpected Places

Keith Doxtator, Trust Director, Oneida Nation

Crystal Echohawk, Executive Director, Illuminative

Carla F. Fredericks, Director, First Peoples Worldwide

Stephanie Fryberg, University Diversity and Social Transformation Professor of Psychology, University of Michigan, Co-Author, Unpacking the Mascot Debate: Native American Identification Predicts Opposition to Native Mascots

Shannon Keller O’Loughlin, Executive Director, Association on American Indian Affairs

NDN Collective

Mary Phillips, No Name Change No Stadium

W. Richard West, Jr., President and CEO, Autry Museum of the American West, and Director Emeritus and Founding Director, National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution

Cc (via bcc email): Nike, FedEx, Walmart, Pepsi Co., National Football League Players Association, Bank of America, Eleanor Holmes Norton, Muriel Bowser

@MaryEmilyOHara maryemily.ohara@adweek.com Mary Emily O'Hara is a diversity and inclusion reporter. They specialize in covering LGBTQ+ issues and other underrepresented communities.