More than 2,000 high schools have shed Native American logos and mascots. In the last 25 years, 28 schools have shed the R-skins name. Will Daniel Snyder and the Washington R-skins be the last to shed a racist name? Check out our new report!
The team is rotten to the core. First, it was Mr. Snyder's stubborn refusal to change the name. Second, we learn over the summer that the team mistreated cheerleaders and exposed them to compromising situations in summer photo shoots. Add misogyny to the list. Third, the team hires a running back at the beginning of the season that beat his son with a whip. The graphic descriptions of these beatings are horrific. Anything to win seems to be the ethic. Fourth, the team rushes to employ a linebacker, Reuben Foster, that the 49ers released after he was arrested for domestic violence. No shame, and a team that enables this behavior. Today, two columnists in the Washington Post suggest that the team is losing the trust of its fans. Mr. Snyder's shameful behavior is adding up to empty seats at Fed Ex that are being taken out of service so the team can claim sell outs. Mr. Snyder has not yet reacted to moral suasion in a positive manner, exemplified by his clinging to a racist name. Perhaps if more fans tune out, don't watch the games on TV, and stop going to games, he might get the picture. Racism, misogyny, and domestic violence don't fill your seats.
For a few years, DC Mayor Muriel Bowser appeared to be doing the right thing. She would not use the name of the Washington football team. She wore team apparel without the name and the stereotypical logo. But shortly before Labor Day, she reached out to the team, said she wanted them back in DC, and started using their name. Why? It seems the almighty dollar can answer that question. She is quoted as saying, "In the world of capital, you invest in the arts. You invest in the restaurants and a great nightlife scene and walkable, livable communities — and also in sport.” Yet, it is unclear whether sports stadiums really pay for themselves, particularly football stadiums that host so few games a year. More importantly, a dictionary defined racial slur perpetuates racism and damaging stereotypes. We thank DC Councilmember David Grosso who said in response to the Mayor's efforts, “I am disappointed to hear that Mayor Bowser is trying to bring the NFL’s Washington Football Team back into the District of Columbia. Though I have been a lifetime fan of the team, I continue to be frustrated and offended by the team’s name and oppose any efforts for them to play in our city.” Thank you Councilmember! Isn't it as simple as that?
June 18, 2018
Robert D. Manfred Jr., Commissioner
245 Park Avenue, 31st Floor
New York, NY 10167
Dear Commissioner Rob Manfred:
We write you this letter as members of Rebrand Washington Football. We are lifelong fans of DC sports, advocating a name change for our hometown football team. We are in the belief that misappropriation of Native American culture must end for all athletic organizations.
The summer of 2018 is a joyous time for DC sports. We captured our first Stanley Cup title. We have a World Series caliber baseball club. A gleaming soccer stadium will open just days before we host the MLB All Star game. All Star week will showcase the treasures of the District’s Anacostia Waterfront Initiative, a revitalization effort that has flourished since the opening of Nationals Park. The only potential weak spot in our All Star lineup is the mascot duo which the Cleveland and Atlanta baseball teams will bring to town.
Each day Major League Baseball honors the sacrifice and selflessness of Jackie Robinson, and July 17th will be no exception. The 42 logo has been a proud fixture in every MLB ballpark for over 20 years, as standard an item as the American flag in the outfield. Sadly, we complicate Jackie’s legacy when we dishonor America’s Indigenous peoples with war whoops and tomahawk chops. The Cleveland and Atlanta franchises hopelessly misrepresent Native Americans, which is problematic to all people. The aforementioned team names demote American Indians to less than human status, while the logos and crowd chants portray Native people as imaginary and extinct beings from a previous century. While we applaud efforts to reduce the presence of Chief Wahoo, a demotion from the gameday roster isn’t enough. The very real consequences of racism will continue to fester until the names and imagery of both clubs are struck out.
In our advocacy for changing the name of Washington’s NFL team, we have met Native American parents who struggle with anger and disgust when attempting to explain to their children why sports teams use stereotypical names, symbols, and chants, which belittle indigenous cultures. Indeed the American Psychological Association released findings in 2005 calling for the permanent discontinuance of Native American themed mascots. The decision was based on a large body of scientific research which concluded that such mascots are harmful.
The best way for MLB to honor Native American people is to stop mocking them with mascots. All Star week in the Nation’s Capitol would be an ideal time to break old habits and start new traditions. Let’s nurture the game by honoring Jackie Robinson’s hard work and determination to realize equality in sport. We look forward to your reply. You can reach us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ian Washburn, Arlington VA
Josh Silver, Bethesda MD
Bill Mosley, Washington DC
In today's New York Times, a front page story provided extensive and disturbing detail regarding the mistreatment of cheerleaders of the Washington professional football team. The article featured a photo shoot in Costa Rica during 2013 in which cheerleaders posed topless. Afterwards, a select group of cheerleaders were asked to escort men to a night club. Senior officials of the team were at the nightclub. Earlier in 2012, cheerleaders were asked to attend a raucous party on a yacht owned by a rich patron of the team.
These instances do not appear isolated and instead reflect the culture of the organization. The New York Times article documents that team owner Dan Snyder assumed control of cheerleading, folding it into the team organization; it was previously operated by an independent company. After he assumed control, the marketing of cheerleading became salacious including sections on the team website encouraging fans to select cheerleaders they thought were "hot."
This repulsive misogyny has a common theme with Snyder's refusal to change the team's name. He is objectifying women just as he is demeaning Native Americans by making them mascots. Native Americans are about two percent of the nation's population. Apparently, it is not enough to objectify two percent. Let's go for an additional 50 percent (that is women) and now humiliate more than half of the nation's population.
There is a good case to be made to ban cheerleading in the NFL. The Times reports that six teams do not have squads. At the very least, the NFL must establish a code of conduct to make cheerleading free of humiliation and sexual harassment. As the Washington Post editorializes, the NFL Commissioner must meet with the cheerleaders whom have filed harassment lawsuits. The Commissioner has not shown moral backbone to this point in response to injustice; now is his opportunity to change that.
As for Mr. Snyder, may he repent and express public regret for his despicable behavior by changing the name and ceasing the objectification of women and Native Americans.
By Bill Mosley
The Cleveland Indians’ announcement in January that they would complete the phase-out of their “Chief Wahoo” logo – the bright-red, idiotically grinning, feather-wearing character that disgraced their uniforms – by the beginning of 2019 was a victory for the growing movement to ban Native American logos and team names from sports. The team finally succumbed to pressure from baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred to get rid of an image that many Natives, and non-Natives as well, regarded as offensive. The team already had taken baby steps to downplay the image, removing it from batting helmets and displays in the ballpark. However, the team will continue to sell gear with Wahoo logos, ostensibly to protects its trademark, and will continue to be called Indians, which advocates have urged it to change as well.
The Cleveland team’s move follows the growing practice of sports teams across the United States to drop team names and logos that demean and stereotype Native Americans. The greatest progress has been at the high-school level, with about one-third of schools that used Native names a half-century ago no longer doing so; while a few colleges and a handful of professional teams have dropped Native names and logos.
However, here in the Washington area, the local National Football League team continues to cling to a team name that is a dictionary-defined racial slur. Daniel Snyder, the team’s stubborn owner, has vowed to never change the name, despite pressure from nationwide Native organizations and activists and a growing grassroots movement among the team’s fans.
Clearly, Snyder needs to pay a visit to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian, which recently opened an exhibition on how Native imagery and history have been used and abused for entertainment, profit-making, and painting a pretty face on the policy of Manifest Destiny. With the simple title of “Americans,” the show paints a stark picture of how one group of Americans – those whose ancestry in this country goes backward for millennia – sees things differently from the majority whose roots in the United States reach back only a few centuries or less.
The exhibit is dominated by more than 100 objects – advertisements, clothing, toys, movie posters and even military weaponry – bearing Native images or names. The objects date from the early 18th century to almost the present day. On the far wall a giant screen plays clips of films that featured stereotyped Native characters.
The oldest image in the exhibit is a copy of the Virginia colonial seal from 1705 in which a Native kneels before England’s Queen Anne, presenting her with tobacco. However, the vast majority of the images in the display come from the 20th and 21st centuries. Sports images abound, including those bearing the Washington football team’s controversial name; one of them, a poster issued by the Philadelphia Eagles promoting a 1962 game with Washington, depicts the home team’s avian symbol having snatched the bow and arrow from its opponent’s clueless-looking Native mascot. There are plenty more Native-themed sports logos representing the baseball Braves and Indians, the basketball Warriors (which today no longer uses a Native logo but retains the name) and college teams.
Posters for cowboy-and-Indian movies are well-represented, including one for Flaming Star – featuring Elvis Presley as a “half breed” – and the John Wayne/Henry Fonda film Fort Apache, which turned the name of a Native tribe into a catchphrase for a besieged outpost. A Tomahawk missile and a model of a Comanche helicopter borrow from the Natives’ warrior image.
The evolution of commercial appropriation of indigenous identity is represented by two “Native American Barbie” dolls, representing several attempts by Mattel to exploit popular images of Natives to sell toys. A 1996 version of the doll, bedecked in blue fringe and leather moccasins, “reflects generic interpretations of what Native American’s look like,” the explanatory panel says – advertised as “tribe-inspired” without resembling any particular tribe. In 2000 the company introduced a supposedly more culturally sensitive version, the “Northwest Coast Native American Barbie,” the “first tribally specific doll.” We observe that this “Tlingit-influenced Barbie, complete with a chillkat robe, has long dark hair and tan skin, but she hasn’t lost her Barbie essence.”
Elvis and Barbie were playing redface, but how about that iconic ad for the “Keep America Beautiful” campaign from the 1970s featuring the “crying Indian” that portrayed Natives as guardians of the environment? In fact, the exhibit notes, the actor in the print and TV ads was not even a Native (but in fact an Italian-American). Even some of the most authentic-looking representations of Natives were fakes.
What does it all mean? The display is short on analysis except for a couple of panels with brief introductory explanations. “Nearly all that can be named or sold has at some point been named or sold with an Indian word or image,” a panel explains. “What if the stories they tell reveal a buried history – and a country forever fascinated, conflicted, and shaped by its relationship with American Indians?”
“. . . Americans are stilly trying to come to grips with centuries of wildly mixed feelings about Indians,” another panel reads. “They have been seen as both authentic and threatening, strange yet deeply appealing.”
The exhibit doesn’t explain the sudden explosion of Native images starting about a century ago, but a likely reason is by that time Native resistance to white domination of the continent had been effectively squashed. Until the late 19th century America’s indigenous peoples had posed a military and economic threat to unfettered white expansion and domination of the continent. By the 20th century they had been sequestered on reservations, and it was safe to romanticize them, to celebrate the courage and authenticity of a defeated people without having to actually engage with them. In doing so the public lost sight of the fact that Native peoples represent a wide diversity of cultures with different languages, customs and ways of life, and popular culture collapsed them all into a single stereotyped “Indian” who wore feathers, lived in tipis, carved totem poles and brandished tomahawks – the equivalent of creating a generic “European” wearing a beret and kilt and carrying a plate of spaghetti into an onion-domed cathedral. As C. Richard King wrote in his book Redskin: Insult and Brand, a critical dissection of the Washington team’s racist moniker: “Most Americans have not received adequate historical instruction nor had exposure to indigenous peoples and perspectives as living, vital and valuable . . .[T]hey cannot read media, history or society in a critical fashion because they learn about these subjects, particularly as they relate to indigenous peoples, from movies and television shows, stump speeches and national monuments, football games and fashion trends.”
In addition to the display of artifacts with Native imagery, the exhibit delves into other topics that reveal the gulf between Natives and other Americans in their interpretations of US history. A film features an interview with museum curator Paul Chaat Smith, a member of the Comanche nation, that explores Native views of the meaning of Thanksgiving, which in the eyes of many Natives meant little more at the time than “brunch in the woods” – although we now know it was a prelude to future displacement and genocide.
Another room contrasts the real story of Pocahontas with the distorted, Disneyfied image most Americans have of her – reminding us, for instance, that she was only 11 when the English arrived at Jamestown, too young for a romance with John Smith; and that the story of her saving Smith from execution at the hands of her tribesmen was likely Smith’s invention, or at least exaggeration. The exhibit notes that some three centuries after her death, Pocahontas unwittingly kicked a dent in Virginia’s absurd racial taxonomy of the early 20th century when a proposed state law would have classified anyone with even a trace of non-white blood as “colored.” Elite Virginians who traced their ancestry to Pocahontas – through her marriage to John Rolfe, the founder of the commercial tobacco industry – howled, and an amendment to the code allowed those with 1/16 Indian ancestry to still be considered legally “white” and avoid being subjected to the harsh strictures of segregated society.
The exhibit also delves into the “Trail of Tears,” a term which specifically refers to the government’s forced march of the Cherokee nation from its ancestral home in the southeastern United States to Oklahoma, but more generically has come to denote the forcible relocation of all eastern tribes to the west – that is, those who survived the trip. According to the exhibit, nearly 68,000 Natives were torn from their homelands, and between 11,000 and 13,000 didn’t survive the trip due to “disease, exposure, exhaustion, avoidable accidents, and warfare.”
Here, Andrew Jackson gets his due as the leading architect of Native removal, but the exhibit makes clear other revered Americans played their part. Thomas Jefferson, for one, opined that “should any tribe be foolhardy enough to take up the hatchet at any time, the seizing of the whole country of that tribe, and driving them across the Mississippi as the only condition of peace, would be an example to others, and a furtherance of our final consolidation.” A few dissenting voices against removal, such as Senator Theodore Freilinghuysen of New Jersey and missionary Jeremiah Evarts, were drowned out by those who were driven by racism and a lust for Native lands. The exhibit makes clear that the true story of the Trail of Tears might have been largely lost to us had not a number of female Native activists, led by educator Rachel Caroline Eaton and poet Ruth Muskrat Bronson, pushed the story into the national consciousness in the early 1900s.
Another room examines differing white-versus-Native views of the Battle of Big Horn. While for Natives it represented a heroic stand by the Lakota and Northern Cheyenne in defense of their land, for whites it “sanctified the idea of manifest destiny,” according to the exhibit’s curators. While white images of the battle – in artworks, film and television – have proliferated in the 142 years since the battle, indigenous depictions are seldom seen. The exhibit corrects that oversight and includes two dramatic, large-scale pencil drawings by the Minneconjou Lakota artist Red Horse created only five years after the battle that capture the bloodiness and chaos of the fighting,
“Americans” is a welcome and overdue exhibit, but it leaves at least one question hanging. What impact have all the stereotyped images and the history written by whites had on Natives? One has to go elsewhere, such as the new documentary film More Than a Word by Kenn Little and John Little, for a first-hand view of how demeaning images and team names have assaulted the self-esteem of Native Americans, especially children.
Nevertheless, “Americans” adds a brief to the growing case against the misappropriation of Native images and history for fun and profit, and for seeing indigenous Americans as they are – a diverse collection of communities with unique histories and cultures, not a relic of cowboy movies but a living network of communities retaining much of their culture and identity. Natives suffer disproportionately from poverty and its related ills due to centuries of genocidal policies by the dominant white society, but among them is a strong core of activists who remind us that they are still around and will not submit quietly to abuse of their culture and heritage.
“Americans” will remain at the Museum of the American Indian through 2022.
In the cold bitter days towards the end of January, news out of Cleveland let some sunshine through. After being pressured by MLB Commissioner Robert Manfred, the Cleveland Indians announced that it would remove their logo, Chief Wahoo, from uniforms during the 2019 season. Chief Wahoo is one of the most disgusting Native American stereotypes, featuring a wide tooth grin. While important, this is a half measure. Commisioner Manfred had concluded that the logo was inappropriate, but did not discuss the name of the team with the Cleveland Indians. We will keep working on removing all Native American stereotypes, logos and names, from sports.
So the question arises, even from a half measure, whether the NFL took a hint? Roger Goodell, the NFL Commissioner, had his buddy's back. He declared that Dan Snyder had done a terrific job reaching out to Native Americans and he did not think Snyder would change the team's name. The contrast between the two sports and Commissioners is glaring and startling. We certainly know where the moral rot is, and will keep up the struggle against Mr. Snyder's racial slur. We also thank Commissioner Robert Manfred for taking action and indirectly keeping the pressure on Mr. Snyder's team and other teams that insist on using offensive logos and names.
The Native American women advocacy group, Rising Hearts, gave Dan Snyder a brilliant gift this holiday season. They provided a glimpse of what a name and logo free of racism would look like. The Redhawks name and logo is imaginative and captivating. The only question is whether Dan Snyder is smart enough to accept this gift and change the name of the team! We share two videos of a rally organized by Rising Hearts before the R-skins football game against the Cardinals on December 17, 2017. Go Redhawks! And here is what the Redhawks web page would look like.
In Showdown, JFK and the Integration of the Washington R-skins, Thomas G. Smith makes it clear that George Preston Marshall (GPM), the first owner of the team was an unrepentant bigot whose name for the team had nothing to do with honoring Native Americans but everything to do with pandering to the prejudices of a white fan base.
In the early years, when GPM’s team played in Boston, the first coach was Lone Star Dietz, a shady character that may or may not have been Native American. Smith states, “Marshall promptly played on Dietz’s Indian ancestry to entertain fans. Not only did he hire a Native American coach and recruit four Indian players…, he required Dietz and the players to wear Indian feathers and war paint before home games.”
One of GPM’s former players, Cliff Battles states, “In the thirties, we would, at the urging of George, put on war paint before a game and do a little Indian dance to entertain the customers. None of us liked it very much. The showmanship was so overdone, it was embarrassing.”
Marshall was just beginning his embarrassing and craven career of racism and exploitation. In the late 1920s and early 1930s, a few African-American standouts played in the NFL, including Fritz Pollard, a running back and quarterback. In 1933, however, the NFL owners during their annual meeting agreed to an informal ban of African-American players that lasted until 1946. Of course, GPM was one of the ring leaders.
After the World War II, societal pressure to integrate was too much to resist in the NFL except for GPM. African-Americans fought for and died defending democracy abroad. Integration and democracy in the United States, at least in some areas of life, became hard to resist. As the NFL integrated, GPM resisted. His team suffered because of his segregation. When GPM refused to consider a wide swath of the talent pool during NFL drafts, he confined his team to mediocrity. During a 15 year stretch from 1946 through 1951, GPM’s team had just three winning seasons, no title or championship games and went through eight coaches (sounds like the contemporary team).
Marshall would never admit to overt racism against African-Americans. Instead, he hid behind paternalism. He claimed that if African-Americans played in NFL, bigoted whites, particularly from the south, would hurt them. What Marshall was really afraid of, however, was hurting his bottom line. He catered to Southern markets, purchasing TV and radio stations, to showcase his lily white team. Southern prejudice would be offended by hiring African-American players according to Marshall’s business practices.
As much as Marshall would protest to not being overtly racist, his actions would prove otherwise. His racism was often not confined to one minority group. In the 1950s, he appeared on the Oscar Levant Show, and repeatedly called the Jewish host ugly. During the halftime of football games, he would frequently use Black-face comedians and have his choral group sing “darky” songs. One fan pointed out that he would have white vendors engage in the most profitable activity of selling game programs. And finally, he wanted to move away from Griffith stadium because it was in an African-American section of the city.
GPM hit a little snag though when he wanted move from Griffith and lease DC stadium, now the recently retired RFK stadium. The federal government owned the land beneath the stadium. Stewart Udall, the Interior Secretary, in the Kennedy Administration threatened to cancel GPM’s lease if he did not integrate his team. During 1961 when this showdown occurred, 51 African-Americans played professional football but not one with the R-skins. According to Udall, “Marshall is one of the few remaining Jim Crow symbols in American sports, and we believe such action (the integration order) would have a wide impact in the civil rights field.” GPM dug in his heels for several months. His team continued to suffer from his segregationist policy; it finished 1961 with a 1-12-1 1961 record.
Finally, he faced the inevitable and did not want to lose his lease. He relented and signed the African-American running back turned wide receiver Bobby Mitchell in 1962, who went onto to have a Hall of Fame career. GPM, however, was not a convert to integration. When he wrote his will, he established the R-skins Foundation and stipulated the Foundation “shall never use, contribute or apply its money or property for any purpose which supports or employs the principle of racial integration in any form.” The foundation was to help disadvantaged children and a court voided the anti-integration clause after GPM’s death.
So there it is. The fellow who coined the team’s name was not honoring any race or creed in general or Native Americans in particular. He was a vicious racist who used stereotypes to pander to a white, Southern base during the Jim Crow era. Why on earth would we still want to use a name and mascot associated with such a man?
When members of Rebrand Washington Football urge people to sign petitions asking Dan Snyder, the owner of the Washington professional football team, to change the name, we encounter the skeptics who ask whether we have better things to do and why would Native Americans be so concerned about a name of a football team when there are so many other pressing issues in their communities.
The answer is that it is “More than a Word,” which is the name of a recently released documentary by John and Kenn Little, two Native American artists and brothers. Viewing this documentary, you become aware quickly that a word is a system of domination as James Baldwin says in the film. He was talking about the N-word and states when one takes away the N-word, the system falls apart. There is no domination left. This is the case with the word “Redskin.” I normally don’t say or write the word but will do so in this review to show its jarring force.
The film features informative and moving interviews of Native American activists who make it clear what the word represents. Suzan Harjo, the lead plaintiff in the first Supreme Court case against the use of the name “Redskin” by the professional football team, states that “Actions are preceded by thought. You don’t attach rights to people that are less than humans.” Tara Houska, another prominent activist, suggests, “As headdress characters, we are not in the modern dialogue.” Indeed without respect, there is no justice. The rights of a minority can never be fully realized when the majority in society hold stereotypical views of them.
Doesn’t the name “Redskin” symbolize bravery or honor as Dan Snyder asserts? While filming the movie, the Littles also made a shirt that has an advertisement from the Winona Daily Republican newspaper from 1863. This ad states, “The State Reward for Dead Indians has been increased to $200 for every REDSKIN sent to purgatory.” Instead of honor, the name “Redskin” is associated with genocide.
Moreover, as the film makes clear, there is power in an image. Whenever someone in the movie says the name honors Native Americans, the film cuts to singing and dancing, either at sporting contests or old movies that display despicable stereotypes of Native Americans. I am quoted in the movie as making a parallel to Jewish history and the series of names and symbols used to denigrate Jews. The words and images affect how the majority thinks. They seep into the subconscious of children and inform the views of emerging generations. Can a country respect a people that have been stereotyped and then construct equitable policy to right past wrongs? And how do we fix this? Start with getting rid of dictionary defined racial slurs and stereotypical mascots at sporting events. Then millions of fewer people will not develop stereotypical views.
Some of the most gripping moments occur when Amanda Blackhorse, the lead plaintiff in the second Supreme Court case against the name, describe her sacrifices and the threats she endured against her safety. Not a system of domination? Just a name? Tell that to Amanda Blackhorse.
The movie ends with an artists’ conference where Native American artists describe how they affirm their heritage and beat back stereotypes through art. They are using art and words to reclaim their history and their worth as a people. As a woman viewing the movie at the screening I was at in DC’s Takoma neighborhood stated, even some Native Americans became fans of teams with stereotypical images as they are clinging to any vestige of Native American worth in majority culture. Well, the Littles and the artists at the conference seek to change that and empower Native Americans through their own authentic art.
This is a powerful movie. You need to see it. The skeptics need to see it; some of them may change their minds. Consult the More Than A word webpage for screenings near you.
Josh Silver is one of the founders of RWF and is a life time fan that wants the name changed!