As training camp begins; Redskins nickname controversy simmers - NBC12 - Richmond, VA News

As training camp begins; Redskins nickname controversy simmers

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RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) -

It has been controversial for more than twenty years.

The name that binds football fans across the Mid-Atlantic is something that some find offensive.

The nickname "Redskins" has been the subject of court battles- protests and passionate defense.

The Washington Redskins- and the brand associated with it- is one of the most successful sports properties of all time.  It is a moniker that evokes pride and tradition- but despite all the success cannot escape the specter of outright racism.

For fans of Washington's football team the "Redskins" is more than just a nickname. 

"Without the name Redskins you have no brand," said Senator Chap Petersen (D-Fairfax) a long time Redskins season ticket holder. "It's like Coca-Cola; it's like the New York Yankees."

In the last year the Redskins nickname has received a new round of intense criticism. 10 different members of congress sent a letter to owner Dan Snyder asking to consider a change.

Professional golfer Notah Begay- a full blooded Native American called the nickname "institutionalized degradation."

Even Washington D.C's Mayor Vincent Gray wanted to open the discussion of a name change.

The outcry though comes mostly from people not connected to the team and in many cases outside of football.  Consistently people, who love the Redskins, make no apologies for what the nickname stands for.

"We live in a democracy and at some point you need to let people make their own choices and if my choice is to support the Redskins you need to respect my choice too," said Petersen.

Petersen argues that there is nothing in the DMV metro that unites people of all backgrounds more than the city's football team.

He is not alone- Richmond Times Dispatch columnist Paul Woody polled Native American tribes around Virginia. He talked to a number of different tribal leaders and not one had a problem with the name.

But while there is no movement to change the NFL team's name it is slowly disappearing everywhere else.

Philip Merrill College's Capital News Service at the University of Maryland analyzed high school mascots across the country. They determined 62 high schools use the Redskins name, but 28 schools have dropped its use in last 25 years.

That is not enough to sway the team's fans and more importantly their owner. Dan Snyder is someone who often draws the ire of Skins fans. He won their admiration when he defiantly declared that the team's nickname would never change.  His bold statement was followed up by a signal of support from the NFL's powerful commissioner Roger Goodell.

It is enough to silence the debate for now, but perhaps not end a fight that evokes passion from many different sides.

And Mayor Gray quickly learned that there was a political price to the prospect of suggesting the Skins change their name. Less than a month after he proposed a discussion on the topic he quickly backed down.

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