Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush has defended the Washington Redskins’ use of the controversial moniker, saying, “I don’t think politicians ought to have any say in that, to be honest with you. I don’t find it offensive. Native American tribes generally don’t find it offensive.” Speaking to Sirius XM’s The Arena (via Mediate), Bush added that, “It’s a sport for crying out loud. It’s a football team. Washington has a huge fanbase. I’m missing something here I guess.”
Bush then cited a 2005 NCAA decision that allowed the Florida State University Seminoles to keep their name because tribal leaders endorsed its continued usage. However, the Seminole – like the Ute, the name of the University of Utah’s sports teams – are an actual Native American tribe, whereas “Redskin” is widely considered a derogatory term.
As Think Progress points out, Bush has good reason to defend the Redskins name: The team’s owner Daniel Snyder contributed $100,000 to the Republican candidate’s Super PAC. Snyder has vowed never to change the team’s name despite mounting pressure from football fans and the U.S. government; last summer, U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s Trademark Trial and Appeal Board canceled the team’s trademark registrations because it was deemed derogatory to Native Americans. The Washington Redskins have since appealed the decision.
In a statement, the Oneida Indian Nation’s “Change the Mascot” campaign said of Bush’s comments, “What is surprising is that in promoting the use of this slur, the governor somehow believes he speaks for Native Americans and can assert that Native American people do not find this slur offensive. He clearly is missing something. What is even more appalling is the governor’s declaration that because he personally doesn’t find this slur offensive, that makes it acceptable. This should be a very simple open-and-shut issue in the 2016 campaign: No presidential candidate should be promoting this racial slur against Native Americans.”
The Washington Redskins remain the most high profile sports team to continue to rely on a racially insensitive moniker and emblem. The Cleveland Indians have largely phased out their controversial Chief Wahoo logo, while college teams like the North Dakota Fighting Sioux have decided to alter their team names to avoid controversy. In 1994, St. John’s University in New York was among the first to switch team names when they shifted from the Redmen to Red Storm because it was offensive to Native Americans; three years later, the Miami of Ohio Redskins changed their team name to the RedHawks.