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DC at Night

Friday, October 18, 2013

Friday Flashback - Love the Game, Change the Name

This article 1st appeared on Feb. 11, 2013. The controversy continues.


Despite protests of varying degrees, no professional sports team with a Native American-focused nickname has ever changed their name. Of course, that means the Indians in Cleveland and the Braves in Atlanta are still playing baseball, the Black Hawks are still skating in Chicago, and the Chiefs are still playing football in Kansas City. And then there is the special case of the Washington D.C. football team, which calls itself the Redskins, a name that carries the same demeaning connotation to many Native Americans that the n-word does with African-Americans.

"Redskins is most egregious except when applied to potatoes," says USA Today sports reporter Erik Brady. "It is disparaging and it is offensive."

Brady was one of 4 panelists who opened a community conversation about the Washington NFL team name at the symposium on Racist Stereotypes and Cultural Appropriation in American Sports held at the National Museum of the American Indian.

To date, neither former owner George Preston Marshall or current owner Daniel Snyder has shown any willingness to drop the offensive term. But Brady believes a renaming of the franchise is inevitable. "Rich owners are accustomed to hearing what they want to hear and not doing what they don't want to do, but this is a racial epithet and he (Snyder) can't change the meaning," he said.

Native Americans have been protesting the name for decades and Washington Post sports columnist Mike Wise has made his feelings on the issue clear for 10 of those years. He said he believes Snyder needs to be forced to change his stance. "He needs to be embarrassed into it," Wise said. "I'll write my butt off if you show up at the practice facility (to protest). Symbolism is so important in this culture and in this country. People say there are bigger things to worry about than names and mascots. But there is a reason to do this - it is called human compassion."

Rev. Graylan Hagler agreed that the name change is long overdue. "If someone says 'ouch' you don't ask them to define how its hurts and how much it hurts," Rev. Hagler said."You can't make something that is racist not racist. They (native Americans) say 'it takes away our humanity'. We should respond to their truth as truth."

Hagler, a long-time community activist, said that a boycott of team products could be an effective method of pressure. "We need to stop buying things that have the logo," he noted. "We need to withhold the cash."

District of Columbia Superior Court Judge Judith Bartnoff said the team name degrades the city of Washington. "The most prominent symbol of the real Washington is the football team and when you hear the fans, what they are screaming is a racial slur," Bartnoff said. "It is disrespectful and derogatory to Native people and undermines the community itself."

Robert Holden, the Deputy Director for the National Congress of American Indians, said "it's a local issue but it's being played out on a national stage. I don't think the owners understand that they are not honoring us. Honor like that - we don't need."

Tales, Tidbits, and Tips
Obviously, given the popularity of professional sports, the symposium was widely reported in the media. Click here for The Washington Times account of the event. And, if you read the entire article, you can see my question which I posed at the symposium.

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