Redskins Name Debate Reaching New Depths of Absurdity

October 8, 2013 in Washington Redskins



As a life long and diehard Washington Redskins fan, I've been disheartened in recent months over the debate to change the Redskins name and revisionist history suggesting that anyone supporting the team is essentially a "racist". In addition to being offended that cheering for the heroes of my childhood and giving support to the team I love suddenly makes me a bad person, I've been appalled by the sheer lunacy of the other side. Now I firmly believe that everyone is entitled to their opinion and it is well within their right to voice that displeasure. I might not agree at all with those in the 'name change camp', but I respect their rights. What I don't respect is the moral superiority every news story, opinion article or action that seems to seep from the majority of that camp.

The idea of boycotting using the Redskins name in print and on-air news sources is ridiculous on many levels, not the least of which is that it goes against common journalistic practice of including nicknames in discussions. The fact that singular reporters or entire organizations can defy public opinion so openly, is scary to show just how far the media is willing to go to push their agenda. It of course doesn't stop there, as every story or op-ed for changing the name seems to come up with the most ridiculous assertions and will attempt to demean anyone who thinks opposite them, and guilt anyone who is perhaps unsure.kyleshanahan

Now up until now I've remained on the sidelines of this debate frankly because of how entrenched the other camp is, and due to the fact that the overwhelming majority of people still support the Redskins nickname. So you can imagine my surprise when I saw a recent article and survey making the rounds of social media saying that "D.C. Fans Support Changing Offensive 'Redskins' Name" . Now when I clicked the article I was fully prepared for a slanted, biased story that I would probably completely disagree with.

What I got though, was far worse than what I could even imagine. The story was so off base, and their "findings" from the survey  were so off base, that I didn't feel they could go unchallenged. Below I will dissect the article, it's bias, it's evidence from a clear push poll, and show just how off base they are.

 

The Bias Reporting:

Now one can quickly see clicking on the link to the story that it is posted on the Indian Country Media Network news site, so it is not unreasonable to suspect from the get go that there could be a likely bias. That becomes far more clear once one goes to the home page of the site, which has an entire section devoted to stories and articles that attack the Redskins. In total they have about 100 stories over the last year attacking the Redskins, many of which have inciting titles that include words like "racist", "Offensive", and "hateful". They even have a piece piggybacking on Mike Wise's WP article attacking Chief Zee for dressing up to support the team. It is clear that this isn't just a bias, but an outward campaign to attack the Washington Redskins, their fans, and all supporters of keeping the name. Given that, it is not surprising that they not only misrepresented the data from the survey, but they even just made up their own conclusions.

 

The "POLL":

Before I get any further, it is good to take a look at this so called "poll" or "survey". It was a nine question survey administered by the 'Let's Change the Name' campaign. Not only were their questions completely biased, and the conclusions flawed (we'll get to those in a second), but their data set is a complete joke. Typically a political or opinion poll will survey between 500-1,500 people (sometimes even more), to attempt to get a fairly accurate sample size. This poll, which according to one of the group's members, Reed Hundt, is "show that public opinion is shifting decisively in favor…", had just 100 respondents.

Now a poll of over 1,000 people can have a margin of error +/- of 3-5%, a sample this small has a margin of error of 10%. That is absurd, and has zero statistical bearing. So when the survey and article make claims like "63% approve", they are simply saying 63 people approved (not really when you look at the data). A number that small is simply meaningless, and has absolutely no business being cited by anyone or anything with any credibility.

In addition to the small sample size, the poll is clearly a push poll and they use it to make ridiculous claims like this one:

The new survey contradicts an Associate Press-GfK Survey conducted last April that shows 79% of respondents favor keeping the name.

The Campaign’s new survey tells a different story. Last week 68% of respondents said they would either encourage or not care if owner Dan Snyder were to change the team name.

In their effort to contradict the AP poll from the spring, this group completely stretches the truth in this claim. Their claim is that 68% (or 68 people) would encourage or not care if the Redskins changed their name. That makes it sound like these 100 respondents were asked the direct question about their feelings on changing the team name, but that is not the case. Instead they were asked this completely different question:

If you were told the name of the Washington Football Team is insulting to a specific racial or ethnic group, would you encourage the owner to change it?

Instead of asking the direct question, this created a hypothetical question based on a certain set of parameters, namely that a specific racial or ethnic group is insulted. That isn't the case in the real world, as there is no evidence that even a simple majority of Native Americans (or any other racial or ethnic group) are insulted by the Redskins name. The hypothetical question implies that a specific group as a whole (or at least close to it) is insulted, and therefore can't be used to judge the opinion of the respondents to the real world scenario.

Also, at fault in the above statement is the fact that "the Campaign" lumps in both those who would encourage the name change (45%) and those who would "not care" (23%). Assuming that that those can be combined is flawed to begin with, but the biggest issue is that the question gave the option of "No Opinion" as opposed to "not caring". Someone answering "no opinion", could just be someone on the fence who could actually "care".

 

The Assumptions:

The survey press release, which the article parroted makes two other assumptions that are completely off base as well, which they present as evidence that DC residents would be okay with the name change and support the franchise even with a new name.

The survey also showed that 84% of respondents would continue supporting the team even if it was renamed.

A strong majority (61%) of respondents even said they would buy memorabilia bearing a
different logo, name and/or colors. The survey asked about new names for the team, and 46% said they would be just as likely to watch the games and purchase memorabilia if the team name were changed to “Skins.” Another popular choice was to bring back the name “Washington Senators.”

Alright there is a lot wrong with these statements, but first we'll deal with the 84% continuing to support the team even if it was renamed. That is not at all what this question suggests. Yes 84% of respondents said they would "…still watch as many of the games" if the owner changed the game. Unfortunately this wasn't a poll conducted among Redskins fans, instead it was among DC residents. In the control questions to start the survey, it was asked if the respondents watch the Redskins in person or on TV, and 39% said no they did not. So unless the name change would make those 39 people Washington football fans, they are part of the 84% number and not really "supporting" the team. Remember the question asked if they would "watch as many of the games", if those people weren't going to watch either way, they shouldn't be counted as among those who would support the team.

The same fallacy is present with the 2nd part of the statement involving merchandise. The question at issue asked respondents if they would you be "as likely" to purchase merchandise with the team name or logo if they were changed by the owner. In the control question asking if this group of 100 people had ever bought Redskins merchandise 66 of them said no. So many of those who are in the 61% "as likely" to purchase merchandise, are probably not Redskins fans and won't buy Skins gear regardless of the name.

The final part of that statement that gets extremely glossed over, is the alternative names offered and the "support" for them. The Survey asked whether fans would just as likely to support the team with three different name options and then an other category (note not all 100 people responded to each one). Again the possible confusion for "as likely" is present in these alternative name suggestions. Here is the complete results:

Redtails: Yes- 36.36% (36 people)  No- 47.47% (47 people) , No Opinion- 17.17% (17 people)

Skins:   Yes- 46% (46 people)  No- 41% (41 people) , No Opinion- 14% (14 people)

Pigskins: Yes- 23.7 (23 people), No- 61.86% (60 people), No Opinion- 14.43% (14 people) 

Other:      Yes- 41.30% (38 people, No- 16.30% (15 people), No Opinion- 44.57% (41 people)

So let me get this straight. Apparently 84% would still watch the team and 61% would still buy merchandise in this group's eyes, despite the fact when asked about three specific options and other which could literally be anything the respondent wanted, 46% was the highest amount of support. In fact two of the names were rejected strongly, and "Other" drew the highest no opinion result. Yet for some reason there is apparently this broad base support, and we should take the 46% for the name "Skins" as a positive. Also, the press release mentions that the Senators is a popular choice, but that was as a write-in among the 38 people who voted yes for "Other". That is hardly a "popular choice".

 

The Flawed Thesis:

My final issue with this article and survey is that their entire thesis is fatally flawed. The central point in both the article and the press release is that the majority of DC residents are for the name change. Here is the first sentence from the article "The results are in: 63 percent of Washington, D.C. residents said that they would approve if TV broadcasters stopped using the name Redskins.". So surely that must be what the poll says, even ignoring the issue with the wording of questions or the ridiculously small sample size. Looking at the poll results though that isn't what this survey says at all.

When asked if they support local broadcasters declining to use the name Redskins, out of respect to Native Americans, just 43% responded yes. So where do they get the 63% number? Well they add the 20% "No Opinion" group to it. Unlike later on in the press release (which was addressed above) where they clearly say people responded in the affirmative or didn't care (again different from no opinion), here they combine the numbers so they can have a clear majority. You just can't combine "no opinion" votes without distinction.

When they cited the AP poll from the Spring where 79% said the Redskins didn't have to change the name, the Campaign didn't add the 8% no opinion votes to bump up the number to 87%, so why do  they feel "justified" in doing it for this question? The 43% is the actual support, and with 37% not supporting it and a 10% margin of error, no one should be making a claim that 63% of DC residents are in support of this. It is a complete and blatant misrepresentation of the data, which creates a false narrative.

Now if you are in favor of a name change that is your right, but please ignore these outright fabrications as evidence for your case. If you want to have a debate on the name change, it should be honest and civil and it shouldn't result in complete and utter attacks and number manipulations. Claims like this reek of desperation, and show the absurdity of where we are in this debate.