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NFL Still Backs Washington Racist Name, But Some Teams Making Changes for Better

NFL Still Backs Washington Racist Name, But Some Teams Making Changes for Better

Rodney Harwood

Indian Country has sent a message that derogatory names and imagery are not acceptable. That voice is being heard.

The NHL’s Winnipeg Jets have recently banned fake Native headdresses at their games. Adidas has offered resources to any high school wishing to change Native mascots. California has enacted legislation banning Native mascots in schools and Colorado has created a commission to assess the use of Native American mascots. The National Football League’s Philadelphia Eagles have also taken a stand against the controversial Washington team name.

The Eagles eliminated the R*dskins name from  their media guide prior to the game with Washington, refusing to recognize the controversial name. Additionally, Eagles head coach Chip Kelly does not say  the nickname during interviews.

John Levi Jr. (Northern Cheyenne/Arapaho), whose father, Haskell football player John Levi, was once called ‘the greatest athlete he had ever seen’ by football icon Jim Thorpe, told ICTMN, “The Eagles not referring to the name isn’t much, but it is a beginning.

“I think the Eagles did that because [their starting quarterback], Sam Bradford (Cherokee), plays for them. They’re definitely showing Sam and [offensive left guard] Allen Barbre (Tunica-Biloxi Tribe) respect by doing that,” he said. “But as for the rest of the NFL, I don’t think they’re doing enough. It’s like they’re just going through the motions.”

A few other teams, such as the Kansas City Chiefs, are making efforts to demonstrate cultural respect to Native tribes.

The Chiefs, whose fans still employ the ‘tomahawk chop’ and wear fake native headdresses, have been working with an American Indian Community Working Group for the past couple of seasons. The group has been at the forefront of the Chiefs’ effort to reshape the culture in the Kansas City fan base for a team that includes quarterback Tyler Bray (Citizen Potawatomi) and long snapper James Winchester (Choctaw).

Earlier this month, the Chiefs honored representatives from 15 Native nations, including NFL Hall of Famer Jim Thorpe’s son Bill Thorpe, at Arrowhead Stadium. The Native American Heritage ceremonies also included a blessing ceremony by Moses Starr, Jr., a spiritual leader of Cheyenne-Arapaho tribes from Concho, Okla. The National Anthem was performed by members of the Chickasaw Nation Youth Choir — a group formed in 2002 as an avenue to engage children in music while learning the language of the Chickasaw Nation. Last year, they honored the American Indian Athletic Hall of Fame with a special halftime ceremony.

Ernie Stevens III (Oneida of Wisconsin), who co-produced the motion picture Crooked Arrows and is a part of the Working Group, told ICTMN, ‘“I certainly do feel like their efforts are something special.” Stevens says that while Washington owner Daniel Snyder is defiant and insulting, Chief’s president Mark Donovan and his front office are receptive to changes.

“The large assumption across Indian Country is that it’s a big PR stunt,” Stevens said.  “But it’s absolutely not. It is true; the NFL is about the bottom-line. But if we can get an honest, proactive, corrective approach to educate the fans, everything else will follow. I see some good, positive change. I also see a long-term process of improving their educational process of all NFL fans.”

American Indian Center of the Great Plains president John Learned (Northern Cheyenne/Arapaho) expects headdresses to be banned from Chiefs games soon, and spoke of the Chiefs sponsoring the Play 60 program on local reservations, a literacy outreach effort at the Kickapoo Nation School in Powhattan, Kansas as well as a Native information booth at all home games.



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