A website announcing that the Washington Redskins decided to change the team name to the Redhawks popped up on Tuesday morning. At quick glance both the site, a near-recreation of the Redskins current site, and the announcement appeared legitimate. After years in which Redskins owner Daniel Snyder vowed never to change the name (“We’ll never change the name,” he once told a reporter. “It’s that simple. NEVER— you can use caps”) despite the protests of Native Americans, it seemed that Snyder finally seen the light.
Of course, no such change had been made. The site, WashingtonRedhawks.com, was created by the Native American activist group, the Rising Hearts Coalition, a Washington, D.C.-based indigenous human, environmental civil rights organization
In a statement, the group apologized for any confusion their stunt had created, but encouraged all those who were snookered to, “Keep that brief moment of joy you had upon reading the news to keep fighting against their racist mascot,” Rising Hearts Coalition said in a statement.
As to their motivations, “We created this action to show the NFL and the Washington Football franchise how easy, popular, and powerful changing the name could be,” said Rebecca Nagle, a member of Cherokee Nation. “What we’re asking for changes only four letters. Just four letters! Certainly the harm that the mascot does to Native Americans outweighs the very, very minor changes the franchise would need to make.”
At their website, you can see some of those changes: a stylized hawk logo replacing the caricature of a Native American on Washington’s helmet, while retaining Washington’s basic design, colors, and fonts. But Rising Hearts didn’t just fire up Photoshop; they also crafted very realistic-looking copies of ESPN’s, Sports Illustrated’s, the Washington Post’s, and Bleacher Report’s respective sites to create shareable “articles” under URL’s intended to give the impression that they were the real deal. All of this proved credible enough to trick a slew of Native American activists, who gave the fake news (literally) quite a signal boost on social media:
Their act of guerrilla marketing contained one other bit of sly brilliance: In the (not) Sports Illustrated “article,” Washington owner Daniel Snyder is quoted as saying, “The RedHawks is a symbol of everything we stand for: strength, courage, pride, and respect — the same values we know guide Native Americans and which are embedded throughout their rich history as the original Americans.”
As David Roth noted at Deadspin, that’s exactly what Snyder said when defending the continued use of a racial slur as team nickname in 2013, save for the substitution of “RedHawks” for “Redskins. Roth also discovered that the site was registered to an individual named “Mark Jones,” but that name has since been removed from the domain registry, replaced with “Dan S.”
Reached for comment about the fake site, a spokesman for the Redskins emailed, “It is not true.” When asked if the team had contacted the site’s owners to request that the falsely attributed quotes be removed or if they’d spoken with its creators at all, the spokesman replied, “We alerted the league office as well as our legal and security team.”
In a follow up statement, the team added, without being asked whether or not they planned to change the team name at any point in the future: “This morning, the Redskins organization was made aware of fraudulent websites about our team name. The name of the team is the Washington Redskins and will remain that for the future.”
Native people will never find this acceptable. It has to come to an end for us to live together as a people.
Jacqueline Keeler, the co-founder of Eradicating Offensive Native Mascotry, an activist group “dedicated to fighting the public misappropriation of Native American imagery and identity.” told GOOD Sports that fake news or not, like many other activists and fans who feel that the time for a change is long overdue, she was encouraged by Rising Heart’s efforts. “I think it’s an excellent move to remind people of this issue,” she said. “It’s a great way of showing how unacceptable this is.”
The issue has faded from the spotlight of late, when the team’s trademark protections were restored in June. The U.S. Justice Department and five Native Americans had argued that the name “Redskins” was a racial slur, and therefore not subject to U.S copyright laws. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office initially agreed, but earlier that month, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of an Asian-American rock band, The Slants, which was similarly not granted trademark protections by the USPTO, based on the belief that the name was a slur. (The Slants, obviously, were attempting to reclaim the offensive term, and the Court determined that the disparagement clause on which the USPTO relied upon, had violated their first amendment rights.)
Regardless, the name, and the propagation of a disparaging term like “Redskins,” or any other use of Native mascots remains pressing issue for indigenous peoples, Keller said. “The protests are still ongoing and someday, this is going to change,” she said. “This is going to happen and he’s just delaying the inevitable.”
“Native people will never find this acceptable,” Keeler continued. “It has to come to an end for us to live together as a people.”