As much as I grew up watching the Washington Redskins football team (Art Monk!!
!), I cannot support the team due to its logo and name. The name is largely derived from a slang term for the scalp of a Native American, which was sold for cash like a bounty on the lives of Natives (used by Westerners during conflicts with tribes). More bluntly, Redskins were valuable souvenirs of racially-charged murders (more here).[i]
The history of Native Americans, especially in the part of the country where I currently reside (Minnesota), is one in which Native Americans experienced deplorable systematic dispossession of lands and marginalization of the importance of their human dignity and life, largely based in racial and cultural intolerance. This is, in truth, the same series of acts that lead to “Redskin” being a term. (In fact, one party to the recent court cases seeking to change/remove the team name is from the this region) The fact that this name and logo (and other similar logos) can still exist, which specifically identify racial stereotypes as common identities under either A) blatantly racist logos and/or B) team names, is shameful. Try naming another franchise based on skin color for an exercise (see logos from satirists above).
But what does this have to do with work? I thought your blog was about work?
Let me explain… The use of a racially disparaging name as an organizational identity evokes a discussion of organizational culture.
One of the learning units in my Management 1001 course here at the Carlson School of Management is about culture. Culture, according to our textbook, is defined as “the way individuals in an organization uniquely and collectively think, feel, and act.”[ii] Further, out text outlines that organizational culture is communicated through artifacts, beliefs and values, and assumptions. Artifacts represent visible organizational structures, processes and languages. This includes the use of the racially disparaging name and logo. Beliefs and values are the meanings that members of an organization attach to those artifacts. In this case, the symbol of the franchise is a stereotypical view of Native Americans. Assumptions are behaviors that stem from beliefs held by a group that has been come deeply embedded in the organization. What does an employee or fan of the Washington Redskins think about when the arguments about the racially-charged artifacts come up?
Further, the choices businesses make about their cultural artifacts are often passed on to customers. For example, Starbucks truly involves customers in their brand, educating their customers, involving them in an experience.[iii] What does it say about an organization that involves its customers deeply in an artifact that makes light of racial-ethnic groups? The artifacts clearly picture a racial stereotype. The beliefs and values do not contribute to the honoring of any native culture in particular. Dan Snyder, owner of the Redskins believes that the name does in fact honor Native Americans, and notes that the franchise began with four Native American players and a Native Head Coach.[iv]
It should be noted here, and I understand, that the association of the “team culture” has grown over time, and that many may choose to argue that this team culture has grown to be separate and distinct from the racially-charged derivation of the term that is still that team’s name. A recent poll from ESPN’s sports journalism show Outside the Lines found that 71% of Americans believed that the name should not be changed.[v] Heck, a bunch of Washington fans dress up like hogs- which is both AWESOME for the fans (kudos![vi]), and has NOTHING to do with the actual mascot. Does this cultural development outweigh (or at least outlast) the racially-charged derivation of the organization’s artifacts?
Conclusion (and slight personal opinion)
The choices organizations make in their artifacts, believes and values, and assumptions may have deep impacts within the company, and in societies through their customers. Despite the years of cultural development, the team culture defense ultimately falls short for me. Feel free to disagree (hopefully tactfully).
The National Football League, which largely represents the current national pastime (according to many sports analysts), can be held to account for the cultures that develop around its sports teams. This is both a strength and weakness of organizational culture. In the conte xt of the Redskins, as both a franchise name and artifact, I believe the NFL can do better.
In a broader sense (here comes the personal opinion), a truly great nation, and its cultural leaders (NFL) can acknowledge a nation’s past mistakes, and current social wrongs. The NFL has no requirement here. This isn’t picking an irrelevant battle against an NFL franchise; it’s acknowledging, as Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton put it, that this sports franchise name is “antiquated, offensive and racist.”[vii] In a reflection of understanding the impact of cultural artifacts, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office revoked six trademarks registered to the team owners, stating that “they were disparaging to Native Americans at the respective times they were registered,” and thus unlawful. Be careful of the organizational cultural elements that you help to forward in your organization…
My questions to you, my few readers:
What does organizational culture mean to you?
What artifacts, beliefs and values, and assumptions lurk in the halls of your workplace (for better or worse)?
How does culture get socialized in your workplace? To your customers or business partners?
NOTE: Want to know more about your US History? I encourage you to watch Ken Burns’ The West (available on Netflix- note I don’t endorse Netflix, but know many readers use it!).
Images (not intentionally in violation of copyright- and I make no money off of this blog!): http://vikingsfootballblog.com/2014/06/20/3726/
Official Redskins logo- not under trademark- feel free to use it as you see fit
[ii] Gulati, R., Mayo, A. J., & Nohria, N. (2014). Management (1st ed.). Mason, OH: Cengage Learning.
[iv] Snyder, Dan. Letter to fans dated October 9, 2013. http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/letter-from-washington-redskins-owner-dan-snyder-to-fans/2013/10/09/e7670ba0-30fe-11e3-8627-c5d7de0a046b_story.html (Link from Washington Post)
[v] Clement, Scott. “New poll says large majority of Americans believe Redskins should not change name.” Washington Post. September 2, 2014. http://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/redskins/new-poll-says-large-majority-of-americans-believe-redskins-should-not-change-name/2014/09/02/496e3dd0-32e0-11e4-9e92-0899b306bbea_story.html
[vi] Redskins fans ‘Hogettes’ retiring ESPN.com news services Jan. 11, 2013 (accessed 10/6/14) http://espn.go.com/nfl/story/_/id/8835791/washington-redskins-fans-hogettes-retiring-30-years
[vii]Gov. Dayton: Redskins Should Change ‘Racist’ Name http://minnesota.cbslocal.com/video/9502304-gov-dayton-redskins-should-change-racist-name/ WCCO Nov. 7, 2013 (accessed 10/6/14)