PHILADELPHIA, PA - SEPTEMBER 21:  A Washington Redskins helmet is carried by a player before the game against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field on September 21, 2014 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)
Washington football team drops the name Redskins
02:07 - Source: CNN

Editor’s Note: Ray Halbritter is Oneida Indian Nation Representative and the principal organizer for the Change the Mascot campaign – a national grassroots organization dedicated to ending the long-held R-word racial slur against Native Americans. The views expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author. View more opinion articles on CNN.

CNN  — 

The history of America is one of evolution and change. We are an exceptional nation because we are not frozen in time. Instead, we are always learning from our past and constantly struggling in the present to create a more perfect union for the future.

Ray Halbritter

Amid righteous protests against systemic racism, the recent decisions to remove statues and update the iconography of public institutions are important parts of that process of growth.

Few such moves are more high-profile – and more overdue – than changing the logo of Washington’s professional football team, which the franchise has announced it will be doing.

Native American leaders, such as Suzan Harjo and Amanda Blackhorse, have been calling for this change for decades.

Seven years ago, their demands were amplified when students at a small-town high school in Cooperstown, New York, voted to stop using the same name that the Washington football team uses.

That action was a spark that supercharged the movement for change, ultimately helping us launch the Change the Mascot campaign.

Over the past few years, we have built a grass-roots coalition of civil rights groups, religious leaders, public health organizations, athletes and elected officials spotlighting exactly why the team’s name is such a problem. This pressure and activism resulted in city council and state legislative resolutions demanding change from the National Football League.

Everyone involved in this movement, as well as in the recent Black Lives Matter protests, understands a a core truth: Our country cannot simultaneously embody equality while also promoting dictionary-defined racial slurs.

The Washington team’s name has been an explicit example of such a slur. The name was not designed as an honor for our people. It was given to the team by its late owner George Preston Marshall, an avowed segregationist – and he chose language that was deliberately disparaging.

The word is a term that was used against our ancestors, banished from their tribal lands, and to describe hunting down our people for bounties.

And yet despite this, the NFL has for decades promoted, marketed and profited off this word, even as social science experts say it is harming Native Americans’ self-image. The word also teaches other Americans to look down on our people.

To be sure, cheering for the Washington franchise is not unto itself a form of racism. Many fans have probably never thought much about the implications and meaning of the team’s name. But that is one of the reasons why this name is so problematic – it has helped unconsciously perpetuate the notion that Native Americans are to be ridiculed, trivialized and judged by the hue of our complexion.

The Black Lives Matter protests have spotlighted institutionalized bigotry throughout our country, and the Washington team owner and the NFL rightly felt the pressure, especially when corporate sponsors expressed their concerns.

The NFL and the team finally made the right call, for which they should be commended. Make no mistake, today is a win for the NFL. While long overdue, this is ultimately a good decision for the Washington team, the NFL, our country – and not just Native peoples – since it closes a painful chapter of denigration and disrespect toward people of color.

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Future generations of Native youth will no longer be subjected to this offensive and harmful slur every Sunday during football season.

From the start, the Change the Mascot movement was never about political correctness, but seeking to prevent unnecessary harm to our youth.

A name change coming to the team that plays in our nation’s capital creates the opportunity for a fresh start and a new chapter. Saying goodbye to the R-word showcases a trait that makes America great: our ability to evolve, change, and finally begin a healing process that will help our society live out the core ideal of equality.