Please welcome the Washington RedHawks…Well, not really

It was too good to be true. It was too perfect of a gift, wrapped up and nicely tied with a social justice bow on top. This reporter should have known, but I got caught up in the excitement, along with other sports fans and writers. After a year of scandal, racism, and violence this was a glimmer of hope:

“Washington football ditches controversial name and rebrands as the Washington RedHawks.”

Stories ran in the Washington Post, Sports Illustrated, on ESPN, everywhere.

But, it wasn’t true. It was a spoof. “Fake news,” in the words of some.

Actually, it was a well organized, well executed, online direct action by the Alliance of American Indian Activists, shining a light on another racist issue found within the National Football League.

So what happened?

Football fans nationwide woke up Wednesday morning with their newsfeed announcing that the Washington Redskins had finally dropped its racist name and had chosen to enter the 2018 season as the Redhawks.

Typing “Redhawks” in the Google search bar garnered a slew of news articles from across the internet announcing the change. There was even a brand new team website.

I took the bait.

Clicking on the newly designed website, I and other fans were welcomed by the prototype logo and the team’s announcement:

“In a time of deep divisions, football has always been and always will be a great unifier. Under the values of courage, commitment, and achievement, the Washington football team is proud to announce the…Washington Redhawks: A mascot everyone can cheer for.”

Team owner Dan Snyder added that the Redhawks are “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.”

Hours later, the Washington Redskins released a statement, which read:

“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.”

Snyder in the past has vowed to keep the racist name and its clear from the team’s statement that his mind won’t be changed—once a racist always a racist.

“Our goal for the campaign was to prove that changing the name would be easy, popular and powerful,” activist Rebecca Nagle from the activist alliance behind the campaign told the Washington Post. “So I think that we as native activists have had to fight out this argument of why it should change, and I think we were able to efficiently flip the script.”

The group had begun planning this action months ago—after seeing NFL players taking a knee—and began buying up web domains that resembled news and sports news outlets. Throwing in some seamless web designs, modelling the various style guides, you’d have to look at the fine print to see that it was satire.

When asked why they set up the websites, organizer Nick Courtney said that the difference between what they did and “fake news” was their end goal.

“It was our intention all along to say that this was not real and here are the reasons why,” said Courtney. “Just to have this conversation among you and among the community members and just all people. So I think we’ve been refraining from using the phrase ‘fake news’ in that regard.”

I’ll go ahead and say it: Mission accomplished.

People are talking about it, and thanks to these activists another crucial issue in the fight for justice is back in the public eye.

Alex Brandon/AP

“We were able to put forth a tactic where we disrupt the mainstream narrative and really put forth a message that non-native people needed to hear,” said Nagle.

As for next steps, activists have planned a rally Sunday outside of FedEx Field at 10 a.m., before the Redskins play the Arizona Cardinals at 1 p.m.

T-shirts with the Redhawks logo and mascot will be handed out for free.



Al Neal
Al Neal

Award winning journalist Al Neal is PW associate editor for labor and politics. He is also the chief photographer for People's World. He is a member of the Chicago News Guild, Society of Professional Journalists, Professional Photographers of America, National Sports Media Association, and The Ernest Brooks Foundation.