The Washington Football Team Needs To Do More Than Take A Knee

Taking a knee is a meaningless gesture when co-opted by an organization named after a racist slur.
09/27/2017 05:33 pm ET Updated Oct 06, 2017
USA Today Sports / Reuters

As an Indigenous (Native American) person, I take issue with the Washington team owner Dan Snyder supporting the #TakeAKnee movement because of everything his franchise represents.

On Sunday evening, Washington team owner Dan Snyder locked arms with his players, joining the movement and attempting to show solidarity. The Washington team also issued a statement prior to the game, which acknowledged how football unifies people and how the “Washington R*dsk*ns will work to address divisions and bring unity, civility and respect to our greater community.”

Colin Kaepernick’s decision to take a knee during the national anthem inspired many athletes to take a knee to show solidarity to real and pressing issues related to police brutality toward Black people. The need to take a knee seemed to amplify after the President Trump encouraged NFL owners to oust players who take a knee, referring to Kaepernick as a “son of a bitch”.

Soon after, the nation watched to see who would take a knee and who wouldn’t. Some players preferred to stay in the locker room during the anthem and some chose to stand with their arms locked with other players. There appears to be much stigma attached to actually kneeling. I ask myself and others if half kneeling is really showing solidarity. Are the players and owners attempting to show solidarity or trying to appease all sides especially with the current NFL boycott?

Many say the NFL owners are hypocrites for supporting the #TakeAKnee movement because several also supported the president’s current position against kneeling during the anthem, and have even funded his presidential campaign at some point. Kaepernick is, after all, still a free agent and appears to be unemployable by the NFL.

What’s really wrong with the Washington NFL team taking a knee?

First and foremost, the franchise is called the Washington “Redskins”. The r-word (it’s that reprehensible I will not spell it out again) is a dictionary-defined racial slur with heinous origins. If that still doesn’t get you, ask yourself, what if it were any other group of color? I wouldn’t be writing this article because that would never happen.

Native Americans have been protesting the Washington team name for over four decades. Almost every notable Native American organization, from educational to political, has spoken out against the Washington team’s use of the term. We’ve stated it is not an honor; you cannot force honor on people ― it’s offensive. Change the name, change the logo! Native people have fought the Washington team in court for more than 25 years (Harjo vs. Pro Football and Blackhorse et. al. vs. Pro Football) – myself included.

In the aforementioned litigation with the Washington football team, several judges at the administrative level under the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and at the federal district court level ruled the r-word is offensive. More recently the Supreme Court ruled in Matal vs. Tam that the trademark board cannot deny trademark registrations even if they are offensive. This includes the r-word. So, regardless of the offensiveness of the r-word the Washington team has the right to retain the name and logo. The right to the trademark doesn’t make the logo any less racist. Period.

The fight against the r-word continues. Wherever the Washington team plays, whether it’s in Maryland, Dallas, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, or Phoenix, you will find Native Americans protesting the team’s racial epithet. We’re not talking about Natives who tenuously claim to be one-sixteenth Indian or that their great-grandmother was Cherokee, we are talking about real Native Americans, those who identify with their tribal nation, those who know their culture, those who speak their languages, and those who actually know what tribe they are. The Disney Pocahontas or Squanto-looking people are stereotypes!

Native mascots harm our children. This is not opinion, but fact. Psychologist Dr. Stephanie Fryberg states that Native American stereotypes (mascots and team names included) lower the self-esteem of Native youth while increasing the self-esteem of non-Native youth. So while our youth feel bad about being treated like stereotypes and racist caricatures every day, the rest of the world can feel good about their sports team. Native people and organizations such as the American Psychological Association (APA) have urged the Washington team for decades to retire the r-word and their symbol of the “Indian head” because it damages and psychologically harms Native people, especially Native youth. When a living group of people are mascotted, you open them up to scrutiny, mistreatment, and oppression – as if we need more of that. Over 500 years has been long enough for us.

So before anyone brings up the worthless and insignificant Washington Post Poll (nine out of 10 Native Americans are not offended by the Washington team name) conducted in 2016, let’s remember, the fact that the people interviewed in this poll were randomly dialed on their phone and self-identified as Native Americans means there there’s no validity or reliability to that survey. Let’s move on.

After all these decades of supporting a racist football logo and name, how can Snyder support taking a knee? How can he stand for justice when he openly supports and protects the use of a racist term? How can he call for unity and community when he chooses not to listen to those who’ve called for change for as long has he’s owned the Washington team? How can the NFL continue to allow such mockery? How can the players of the team continue to participate in such mockery?

To see Snyder standing with his players is a mockery to the call for justice and to those who’ve dedicated their lives to seek justice for their people. It’s a mockery to those young men and women, Black and Native, who’ve died at the hands of trigger-happy police. Snyder couldn’t even show solidarity correctly. He had to stand but not kneel and I suppose he encouraged his players to do so. I suppose he encouraged his players, especially his Black players, not to kneel but to stand with him to show the world that he’s not as bigoted as Native people have outed him to be.

To stand with Colin Kaepernick means to stand for justice of the oppressed. It’s about bringing awareness to the Black Lives Matter movement, to the overall mistreatment of Black people in this country, to the lack of justice in the legal system to prosecute police officers who are not held accountable for their actions of police brutality. It’s about standing in solidarity with the current unrest and ongoing demonstrations and arrests in St. Louis. It’s about standing up to racism, to prejudice, discrimination, to the dehumanization of Black people.

The Black struggle is similar to the Native struggle. Recent reporting by The Guardian states that young Black men and Native Americans were killed by the police at a higher rate than any other group in the United States in 2016. Young Black men were killed at higher rates based on population size and Native Americans were six times more likely than other groups per capita.

Native people suffer because we’re dehumanized. Were dehumanized because were made into mascots and treated like animals, funny caricatures, and stereotypes. There is a correlation between the use of the Washington team’s racist name/logo and the state-sanctioned murder of Indigenous people through human bounty hunting.

In past years, Indigenous people have encountered struggles such as police brutality, the movement to protect our water and sacred sites, the fight against Native American cultural and spiritual appropriation, and the need to seek justice for our missing and murdered Indigenous women. Has Snyder taken a knee for us, the group he vehemently reports to honor?

The fact that a white man in this country can own, hold and turn huge profits on a NFL franchise called the Washington “R*dsk*ns,” and then stand in solidarity with Kaepernick all while ignoring the very people he mascots is what is very wrong with the NFL, the Washington NFL team and, perhaps, even this country. Right now the Washington football team owner needs to take more than a knee if he seeks to stand for justice.

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