The Washington NFL team needs to change its name. I am a proud member of the Navajo Nation and it demeans me and other Native Americans. I find the casual use of the term r*dsk*ns disparaging, racist, and hateful. The use of the name and symbols used by the Washington football team perpetuate stereotypes of Native American people and it disgusts me to know that the Washington NFL team uses a racial slur for its name. If you were to refer to a Native American, would you call him or her a "redskin?" Of course not, just as you would not refer to an African-American as the n-word, or refer to Jew as a "kike" or a Mexican as a "wet-back" or an Asian-American as a "gook," unless you're a racist.
So how does the Washington NFL team defend its use of a racist name? One of their biggest claims is that a long tradition supports the use of the name. The team first began using the name in 1933, at a time when there was a great deal of racism in our country. In 1933, the segregation of African American people under the Jim Crow law was in full effect. The Navajo peoples' livelihoods and sustenance were also threatened as the forced Navajo livestock reduction began. Just because something has gone on for a long time does not mean that the activity is a legitimate tradition. Not all traditions have carried on and many are harmful and repressive. Sometimes change is needed. In this case, the Washington NFL team name is an illegitimate racist tradition and it is time to change. Sports traditions are fun, but toying with racism is hurtful and should be condemned. If the use of the name continues, Native people and Native Nations will never be completely respected by fellow man so long as they are kept in what I refer to as a cultural prison.
In 2005, I attended a game between the Washington and Kansas City NFL teams, in Kansas City. I recall how the game was hyped as an "Indians fighting Indians" event, much like the "Cowboys versus Indians" hype when Dallas plays Washington. What I saw at the Kansas City-Washington game was depressing. I saw fans "playing Indian," wearing outrageous and pathetic costumes that stereotyped traditional Native American regalia. While my friends and I held signs that said "we are not mascots," we had all sorts of obscenities hurled at us, along with angry shouts of "get the hell out of here," "get over it," "go home," and "go back to your reservation."
Meanwhile, we were surrounded by imagery that mocked Native Americans and our cultures, in the form of posters, paraphernalia and even a portable toilet in the shape of a teepee. I did not feel safe. It was an ugly display of hostility and disdain toward my people. I remember being afraid for my well-being as well as the other protestors who remained quiet as we walked in unison around the stadium. We remained peaceful and observed our environment. I remember thinking, if upset enough, dedicated Kansas City or Washington fans, as hostile and as upset as they were, were very unpredictable and could act in a very unpredictable manner. I felt that I had stepped into a very dangerous world where my safety was at risk. At the same time, though, I need to point out there were many in the stadium who did express their support, which meant a lot to us.
While there seems to be much opposition to a name change, it has been very touching to see the outpouring of support for the Native American community from so many Americans of so many different backgrounds. I believe the tide is turning on this issue, and many people are now speaking out about just how inappropriate the team's name is.
In the past two months, the mayor of Washington, D.C., Vincent Gray, stated that if the team wants to move back to D.C. from Maryland, there will need to be serious discussions over the team name. In addition, over the past two months, leading columnists for The Washington Post, including Courtland Milloy, Mike Wise, Sally Jenkins and Robert McCartney, have written powerful articles calling for the team to change its name. Miami University of Ohio and many other high schools such as Cooperstown Central in New York have stopped using "R*dsk*ns" for their teams' name. It fills me with hope that a change is going to come.
I personally believe that all use of Native-themed mascots and team names are inappropriate. I object to being lumped together with Bears, Lions and other wild animals and birds because that dehumanizes my people and me. I object to being lumped together with Giants, Vikings and Buccaneers, as though my people are mythical or alien. The use of Indian names and mascots steals and cheapens our Native American cultures, and promotes stereotypes. Whatever one's views on Native American sports names and mascots, I think we all agree that "R*dsk*ns" is not acceptable under any circumstances.
If we can agree that I should not be called a "redskin" because that would be racist, then isn't it obvious that the Washington NFL team should not use the name? Eighty years' use of a racist term does not make a racist practice a legitimate tradition. It makes it 80 years overdue for a change.
In 2006, along with four other young Native Americans, I filed a petition with the United States Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB) seeking to cancel the trademark registrations of the Washington NFL team that contain the word R*dsk*ns. According to the federal trademark law, a trademark that may "disparage" people or bring them into "contempt or disrepute" is not eligible for federal registration, and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office is supposed to cancel trademark registrations issued contrary to law. The federal government has no business promoting the use of the R*dsk*ns epithet by giving federal registrations to the team's trademarks. On March 7, we appeared before a panel of three TTAB judges for a hearing on our petition. The Washington NFL team has litigated this case aggressively against us, but I am confident that we will win.
I want to thank the D.C. community and other sports fans for your overwhelming support. You are the catalyst for change. Since the team has fought us so hard in the trademark case, it is quite obvious that it will take public pressure to get the team to do what is right. I hope you, the reader, will do the right thing -- speak out, and add to the momentum to change the team's name.