RWJF Sports Awards to drop ‘Redskins’ from consideration, will ‘no longer honor racism’

(WJLA file photo)

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation announced Monday that it will no longer consider NFL teams in Washington and Kansas City for its RWJF Sports Awards, citing the psychological damage to Native Americans caused by the use of American Indian stereotypes.

In an op-ed in USA Today, Richard E. Besser, a physician and president of the foundation, apologized for having honored teams in the past that denigrate American Indian people.

“We didn’t consider the fact that the team names, mascots and misappropriation and mocking of sacred symbols like headdresses do real damage to the health of people across the country.”

The Change the Mascot campaign quickly praised the foundation “for having the moral courage to right a serious wrong by declaring that it will no longer consider applications for awards from the Washington NFL team.”

Besser says that whether they are considered offensive or not, mascots can hurt people.

“Though one might not think of racism and discrimination as factors in health, the clear science tells us otherwise,” Besser writes. “They impact the physical, emotional and psychological health of people, especially children.”

Besser cites the work of University of Washington researcher Stephanie Fryberg and her colleagues who found, “American Indian mascots are harmful because they remind American Indians of the limited ways others see them and, in this way, constrain how they can see themselves.”

“The mascot issue is not one of political correctness, but mental health,” said Change the Mascot leaders Jacqueline Pata, Executive Director of the National Congress of American Indians and Ray Halbritter, Oneida Indian Nation Representative. “As we have said from the start of this campaign, the perpetuation of American Indian stereotypes through the callous use of Native American mascotry and especially the use of the R-word racial epithet, poses a serious mental health issue for an entire group of people.”

Washington team owner Daniel Snyder won in a Supreme Court ruling against five American Indian petitioners in a trademark case against the team's name. The court ruled that even a derogatory trademark is protected by the First Amendment.

RELATED: Supreme Court: Government can't refuse disparaging trademarks, Redskins' legal fight boosted

Besser says the mascot name might be legal, but it’s not right to use it.

“Our foundation operates by a different standard than the sports team in Washington,” Besser writes. “Today, and moving forward, RWJF will not consider an application to our Sports Award if it is submitted by an entity whose name, brand or practices denigrates, harms or discriminates against any racial or ethnic group. We recognize that organizations as large and influential as ours must own our mistakes and vow to do better.

Last week, A.J. Francis, a defensive tackle who was released by Washington and signed by the New York Giants, referred to the Redskins logo as “racist.”

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