WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama says if he owned the Washington Redskins, he would "think about changing" their name, wading into the controversy over a nickname that many people deem offensive to Native Americans.
Obama, in an interview with The Associated Press, said team names like the Redskins offend "a sizable group of people." He said while fans are attached to the nicknames, nostalgia may not be a good enough reason to keep them in place.
"I don't know whether our attachment to a particular name should override the real legitimate concerns that people have about these things," he said in the interview, which was conducted on Friday. The president noted Indians "feel pretty strongly" about mascots and team names that depict negative stereotypes about their heritage.
Other professional sports teams have Indian nicknames, including the NFL's Kansas City Chiefs and Major League Baseball's Atlanta Braves and Cleveland Indians. Numerous schools have changed names that reference Native Americans. St. John's changed its mascot from the Redmen to the Red Storm, Marquette is the Golden Eagles instead of the Warriors, and Stanford switched from the Indians to the Cardinal.
The Redskins' nickname has attracted a fresh round of controversy in recent months, with local leaders in Washington calling for a name change and some media outlets refraining from using the name. The name is the subject of a long-running legal challenge from a group of American Indians seeking to block the team from having federal trademark protection.
Congressional lawmakers have introduced a bill seeking the same goal, though it appears unlikely to pass. "What a prudent and wise use of the bully pulpit," Suzan Shown Harjo, a plaintiff in that case, said on Saturday. "I am so glad that he said that and I hope that people hear a reasoned response from the president and will pay attention to this issue."
Harjo said the issue "involves lots of hurt and pain and ongoing name-calling and bullying of our children that goes with this name. We just need to have an end to it." "There's no such thing as a good stereotype, no matter how well-intentioned, no matter how good people feel about it. It still has negative ramifications for our people. These are relics of the past. They should be consigned to museums and history books and people can feel good about them there. But they should not be allowed in polite society."
Opponents of the Redskins nickname also plan to hold a protest on Monday outside the NFL's autumn meeting in Washington. "We really appreciate the president underscoring what we've been saying," said Ray Halbritter, spokesman for the Oneida Indian Nation, a tribe from upstate New York that's been campaigning against the name.
"There's just no place for a professional football team to be using what the dictionary defines as a racially offensive term," he said. Team owner Dan Snyder has vowed to never abandon the name. But NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said last month the league should pay attention to those offended by the nickname — a subtle change in position for Goodell, who had more strongly supported the nickname in his previous statements this year.
Despite the controversy, an AP-GfK poll conducted in April showed that nationally, "Redskins" still enjoys wide support. Nearly 4 in 5 Americans don't think the team should change its name, the survey found. Only 11 percent think it should be changed, while 8 percent weren't sure and 2 percent didn't answer.
AP Sports Writer Joseph White contributed.