WASHINGTON — Showing the profits of rebranding is more effective than moral arguments in prodding sports teams such as the NFL’s Washington Redskins to drop names seen as offensive to Native Americans, symposium panelists said on Thursday.
Arguments against stereotyping Native Americans will carry less weight than new revenue in changing names such as the Redskins, the target of political debate and a legal fight, the panelists at the National Museum of the American Indian said.
Teams could launch a new revenue stream by junking their mascots and names — such as Major League Baseball’s Cleveland Indians, the NFL’s Kansas City Chiefs and the Florida State University Seminoles — and then selling new jerseys and other items to fans, they said.
“From a financial point of view, there are a lot of reasons showing that it’s a gain and not a loss,” said Ellen Staurowsky, a sports management professor at Drexel University in Pennsylvania.
Newton Jackson, a sports management professor at the University of North Florida, said: “It’s about money.”
The discussion on “Racist Stereotypes and Cultural Appropriation in American Sports” carried special resonance in Washington, where activists have pressed the NFL club to change its name for decades without success.
Washington Mayor Vincent Gray told the Washington Post in an interview last month that he would like to see the club move back to the District of Columbia. The Redskins play in Landover, Maryland, and have their offices in Ashburn, Virginia.
But he said the move would be a hard sell if the team kept a name seen as a racial slur.
Gray avoided saying Redskins in his State of the District speech on Tuesday, calling the NFL franchise instead “our Washington football team.”
A group of Native Americans are carrying out a long-running legal battle challenging the team’s trademark.
Although the museum discussion focused on American Indian mascots in general, the Redskins surfaced again and again in the debate and in comments from the audience.
A spokesman for the Redskins declined to comment about changing the team name or about alleged insensitivity to Native Americans.
Asked this month if he had any problems with the Redskins’ name, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell told reporters that he understood fans’ affinity for it and the issue had been long discussed.
“I think (Redskins owner) Dan Snyder and the organization have made it very clear that they’re proud of that heritage and that name, and I believe the fans are, too,” he said.