A series of seemingly real sports and news sites claimed that the Washington Redskins football team changed its name to the “Washington Redhawks” Wednesday morning.
A liberal activist group for American Indians set up hoax websites to promote the name change. The Redskins have since released a statement denying the change.
Commentators and activists have long argued that the Redskin’s team name and mascot are insensitive to American Indians and should be changed. The Redskins controversy is part of a broader movement by organizations like the National Congress Of American Indians to scrap the use of “native-themed” mascots and imagery by athletic organizations.
A number of articles claiming that the Redskins succumbed to political pressure and rebranded itself as the “Redhawks” went viral on Wednesday. The articles were featured on websites closely resembling those of legitimate sports and media outlets such as Sports Illustrated, ESPN, The Washington Post and Bleacher Report. Even a newly rebranded Redhawks “official website” appeared.
A Redhawks Twitter handle released a statement, however, clarifying that the articles and social media campaign were essentially an elaborate hoax by an activist group called Rising Hearts.
The statement quoted an organizer of the hoax saying, “We created this action to show the NFL and the Washington Football franchise how easy, popular and powerful changing the name could be … Certainly the harm that the mascot does to Native Americans outweighs the very, very minor changes the franchise would need to make.”
Sports Illustrated, ESPN, WaPo, and Bleacher Report have all either denied reporting any name change or have reported the prank sites as just a hoax.
Many of these hoax sites are no longer functioning, although the fake Sports Illustrated website and article could still be viewed as of Thursday morning.
A Redskins spokesperson told Politico in a statement that “the name of the team is the Washington Redskins and will remain that for the future.”
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