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The Redskins Can Change Their Name, But People Will Remain the Same

Charles Kader
1/23/13

This year has gotten off to quite a start with Idle No More and now the Washington, D.C. mayor Vincent Gray chiming in on a franchise name change for the NFL team associated with that city.

I am a self-admitted mascot protestor of professional sports teams. In 1993, I attended the annual Cleveland Indians home opener social demonstration with a cadre of fellow Onkwehonweh “activests” (several wore leather vests) from Erie, Pennsylvania. The Coalition for Racism in Sports and Media invited us to attend the gathering that day and let us know what time to be there.

We arrived before they did. Ohio mounted-police on horseback waved to overflying helicopters which circled the Cleveland Municipal Stadium. The Ohio Black Communist Party stood in a small group dressed in fatigues to one side of a diamond shaped parking lot, passing out literature. Eventually, Coalition leader Vernon Bellecourt (Ojibwe) appeared over a nearby hill, walking with a group of demonstrators.

(I brought a VCR camera that day and filmed some of this before the rented equipment camera’s battery died. Later I notified the video store management representative about this, and received some free rental coupons. Eventually, I dated and then married this same management representative, who is my wife to this day.)

The demonstration group organized into a vee-shaped line that was able to interact with the main incoming ticket-holders for several hundred feet until they entered the stadium concourse. Familiar songs were sung. Someone had a bullhorn. The closer to game time, the more fans came rushing by.

“Hey Ho, Red Sambo has got to go,” Mr. Bellecourt yelled, and then repeated. Many times.

The time of day did not seem to deter many teenaged fans from attending. The loudest responses from the Cleveland baseball fans came mostly from the youngest ones, who often war-whooped back at us, like we were a cultural funny house display. I also found it to be implicating that the young people were of all races, that seemed most put off by the social statement they had been presented with. They vigorously defended the professional sports use of the term Indians. There was no other coping mechanism for many to grasp in these moments of pre-Facebook social confrontation, but to slur our words in response. 

Once I heard the phrase, Think global, act local. I tried to apply this to my sports mascot activism.

A “semi-pro” football team came to Erie in 1995 and was named the Tomahawks. I had hoped that they would have some cool axes as their logo but no, they went with the hatchet-wielding orange guy with a “Little Beaver” hairstyle. Demonstrations ensued at that time, and the name was subsequently shortened to “the Hawks”, although all the road-game programs still said Tomahawks. Oddly, I later played for this team, as a starting right tackle, when their reserves were depleted, and I was on the field when they won their only game of the year, by one point. There was closure to that episode.

I have felt passionately about imagery in professional sports for many years. Thus, to hear of Mayor Gray’s position on the NFL team name change as a point of discussion if the actual Washington D.C. stadium venue was sought for relocation, that really struck me.

I do not know Vincent Gray as a man, or as a politician, yet. This subject is headline grabbing for sure, but not of the most obvious kind. It will not be a popular topic.

Conviction is the desire to right a wrong. The American education system cannot afford to have to re-instruct youth that the term “Redskins” is not socially redemptive, nor is dwelling on the color of skin in any way, whether cheering on something, in small groups or large. Consensus of bigotry as a fan base is not a valid excuse for anti-social behavior. Period.

I attended a prominent all-male school my freshman year. It has a winning athletic history and storied alumni. It also toughened me after I was identified as a Monchhichi or “monkey head” by upperclassmen soon after the school year started. I was only there one year, but it was a galvanizing experience as to the coarseness of young minds and superficial identification, regardless of class or background. Words do matter.

When I watch modern college football, I am repulsed by the over-the-top imagery that the Florida State University Seminoles engage in prior to kick-off. Granted, the right to do so has been stated by two Seminole tribes since 2005. However, the regressive spear-chucking, on fire no less, and the fabled “war chant” are just too much. At least the costumed cheerleader gets a scholarship out of it.

The NFL cannot ever be America’s sport when it brings a whole country down.

Charles Kader (Turtle Clan) was born in Erie, Pennsylvania to a World War Two veteran. He attended Clarion University of Pennsylvania, earning degrees in Communication and Library Science, as well as Mercyhurst College where he earned a graduate degree in the Administration of Justice. He has worked across Indian country, from the Blackfeet Community College in Browning, Montana (where he married his wife) to the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe, and now resides in Kanienkeh.

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Anonymous's picture
In my view, I am Navajo, it's the perspective an individual has on themselves that is most important, not some team or such. Like you kind of say, it will never change. I mean, we cannot even agree, what to call ourselves in general. how many times have you explained, are you Indians , Native, Indigenous or Native Americans? I always say, all I really know is that I am a Navajo man. I was brought up that way. Nothing more or less, just Navajo. Yeah and I am proud to this day, of the shipping company called Navajo, with their big semis roaming the highways, with Navajo written across. One of the reasons change is fought over most things, is people do not like other people telling them what to do. Period. People have to come to their way(s) on their own. To give into protests, rallies, petitions and the like means you are weak and it sets a bad precedent. So, my brothers and sisters, get over it. baseball, football, etc, is in no way linked to us, unless you do the linking.
Anonymous
Anonymous's picture
I am from the Unmonha nation and where our homeland is situated the people of the surrounding area are very racist towards natives and chose to stay ignorant about the people and culture of their neighbors so I think changing the names of these teams would send a message to them that we are not mascots but rather we are a people that deserves respect in our own lands.
Anonymous
Anonymous's picture
@anonymous, I am Asian American and live in the DC area; I've been witness to the protests against the Washington football team and I am amazed at how, as Mr. Kader described, ignorant the responses to the protests are. White and black people arguing back that the name is not offensive, it is meant to honor Natives. Really? Since when do others, like these white fans, decide what is offensive to some minority group? maybe one cannot control what others call you, but should one have to accept the stereotypical imagery by the greater society about you? Minorities tend to be marginalized by the predominant culture as is, but why should we let the predominant culture dictate and control our own images? Because if you don't get to have some say about how you are portrayed, we will forever be depicted as stereotypes.
Anonymous
Mojo Hand's picture
oops, sorry; I didn't log in when I posted. my post for was for Navajo
Mojo Hand
Anonymous's picture
Call them the Washington Oppressors! enit!?
Anonymous
Anonymous's picture
Hello to all ...... on the topic, to each his own. I grew with two Indigeneous backgrounds, adapted to both ways, so I guess they way I perceive the "Redskins" is as a fan, white or otherwise, is a showing a sense of respect as to how hard we fought and we're a worthy adversary on the battlefield, .... that's the way I take it and on one of my a "halves", have read, with pride that we may have been the ultimate ninjitsu warriors around. I have grown to love my sports and don't mind being called a cheesehead. Go team! Society has adapted and so have I ....... thank you.
Anonymous
Anonymous's picture
If you change the name of the Washington Redskins or any other team bearing an American Indian mascot, then you will have to change the name of most of the states of the United States since those names are after American Indians as well.
Anonymous