Thousands turn out in Minneapolis to protest NFL team name
November 18, 2014
The Minneapolis-St. Paul metropolitan area is home to more than 35,000 members of American Indian tribes — among the largest population in U.S. cities. Given the region’s history with Native Americans, there have been numerous controversies about team names throughout the years. The push to change the name of the NFL team from Washington, D.C., is the latest and most notable. Politicians from around the nation and from Minnesota have encouraged the team to change its name. Local leaders tried to prohibit the use of the team name during the Nov. 2, 2014, game against the Minnesota Vikings, which was played at at TCF Bank Stadium on the campus of the University of Minnesota, while a new stadium is under construction for the Vikings.
Two local schools covered the demonstration, which included thousands of protesters.
Minneapolis holds largest protest to date
The largest protest to date against the Washington, D.C., NFL team name and mascot took place Nov.2, when around 5,000 protesters marched from the University of Minnesota to TCF Bank Stadium. The protesters held up signs, some saying, “No honor in racism,” “trivialization of American Indian history is continued genocide,” and “stereotypes are a means to justifying racism.”
Minnesota is a state rich with Native American culture. In 1988, the Minnesota State Board of Education made a resolution stating any mascots using American Indians are unacceptable. One year ago, Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton called the name racist and said, “It’s antiquated and offensive in our present context.”
Former Minneapolis Mayor R. T. Rybak has also said, “It has never been right to disrespect the indigenous people of our country, and it is especially wrong to do it in 2013 with the name of a team that represents our nation’s capital.”
The president of the University of Minnesota has also condemned the name and worked to keep the name from promotional and game date materials and announcements during the Nov. 2 game.
The team has had had a very racist history, with the first owner, George Preston Marshall, stipulating in his will that no amount of money will go toward “any purpose which supports or employs the principle of racial integration in any form.” The team’s cheerleaders used to wear long black braids and do mock rain dances, the band used to wear feather headdresses, and the fight song used to say, “scalp ‘em, swamp ‘um. We will take ‘um big score.” Some progress has been made, as cheerleaders no longer do either, the band does not wear the headdresses, and the fight song has been changed to “beat ‘em, swamp ‘em, touchdown! — Let the points soar!” but the sentiments remain unchanged.
“The use of such an offensive term has negative consequences for the Native American community when it comes to issues of self-identity and imagery,” said Ray Halbritter, the Oneida Nation Representative and founder of Change the Mascot. Change the Mascot is a national campaign formed to combat offensive mascots and names. They have promoted #ProudToBe and #NotYourMascot to spread awareness about this issue. They have also released the “Proud To Be Video,” which shows honorable words used to describe Native Americans.
Many other people have come out in support of changing the team’s name. The Daily Show has released a video on the name, which manages to demonstrate the irony in the situation through interviews with activist Native Americans and fans of the team. President Obama even said, “If I were the owner of the team and I knew that there was a name of my team — even if it had a storied history — that was offending a sizable group of people, I’d think about changing it.”
But this problem is not just for the Washington Redskins. In fact, many popular mascots in our country are related to Native Americans. Over the years, though, more than two-thirds of high schools and colleges have changed their Native American nicknames and logos, including Dartmouth College, the University of Oklahoma, Marquette University, Stanford University, Syracuse University, Saint Mary’s College, and the University of Tennessee. Recently, the debate over using the name “Fighting Sioux” caused considerable controversy at the University of North Dakota. Yet there are still some professional teams that remain unchanged. The Atlanta Braves changed their “screaming Indian” logo in 1989, but have maintained their name. Also in 1989, the Kansas City Chief’s changed their logo, but preserved their name. The Cleveland Indians changed their logo in 2013. Still, after so much progress, The Washington Redskins and Chicago Blackhawks refuse to change their mascots. Even Wonka candies changed their Redskins candy logo from a Native American wearing a headdress to just a red character.
Although many have stood up against these mascots, some remain steadfast in support, including Lisa Delpy-Nerotti, professor of tourism and sport management at George Washington University who said, “If the population that is supposed to be offended isn’t, then why should everyone else be upset about it?” referring to the 2004 poll by the Annenberg Institute, which showed that 9 out of 10 Native Americans were not offended by the team’s name. Although there were 768 self- identified Native Americans who answered the survey, people could say their great-great-great-grandfather was Native American and be included. The Seminole Tribe of Florida also is supportive of Florida State University’s usage of their tribe’s symbols and heritage.
The Washington Redskins face significant pressure to change their mascot. Not only did Minnesota hold the largest protest ever against their mascot, in June, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office canceled their registration for their trademark because of the disparaging message.
For those of who say “redskins” isn’t offensive, the Oxford English Dictionary defines the word as “an American Indian. Now somewhat dated and frequently considered offensive.” Whatever you believe about the history of the word, even the dictionary defines the word as offensive. Although the word may or may not have initially been offensive, it went through pejoration, evolution of word usage, and has now become a disparaging and insulting word. The ultimate problem with using this mascot is that it promotes harmful and misrepresented stereotypes of Native American people that only amplify the problems they already face.
“The question now facing the NFL and team owner Dan Snyder is which side of history they want to be on. It’s a question many Americans are asking themselves, as evidenced by the surge in support for ending use of this harmful racial epithet,” said Ray Halbritter.
Protesters march against NFL team at the U of M
At 8 a.m., in 39-degree temperatures, on Nov. 2, 4,500 people gathered in front of TCF Back Stadium for the largest protest to date of the Washington football team’s name. The protest and preceding march were lead by government officials and First Nations leaders as well as other public figures.
The first speaker and emcee Susan Allen (DFL), a representative from Minneapolis, started the protest and series of speeches by saying, “This [team name] does matter,” which was a common theme throughout the day.
It was repeated by Laurie Watson, Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Vice Chairman. “It matters because it is using a racial slur, which is damaging to our youth’s self esteem,” Watson said.
This was another statement that was repeated throughout the protest and the march. There was a sign displayed during the march stating, “We honor our women and children, our leaders of tomorrow — No honor in racist names or imagery!”
Many other speeches addressed Dan Snyder (the Washington team owner). U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, DFL representative from Minnesota’s 5th Congressional District, stirred up the crowd, yelling, “Dan Snyder, change the name!”
Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges (DFL) said, “Dan Snyder, get into the 21st century!” She moved on to say, “You are not insulting just one race, you are insulting all the people. In fact you are not just insulting; it is more than an insult — it is hate speech”
Ellison reiterated this statement: “The black, brown, white — we are with you, if you are offended, we are offended! If you put down an entire people, that is a denial of human rights!”
Linda Koss, an attendee of the protest, described the team name as “absolutely terrible.” She went on to say that, “It is how their youth choose to identify, it upsets them.” She closed the interview by asking, “What do you find offensive? And how would you feel if it was a team name?”
In an interview with a women introduced as the “shining champion of Native Americans in the U.S. House,” U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum, DFL representative from Minnesota’s 4th District said, “Hate speech is never free speech,” and that there is “no honor in a racial slur.” She closed her speech, and the interview, saying, “We will change the mascot!”
The message of the day was pretty clear: the Native American community does not feel honored by this name, and just because there are a few others who don’t think that way, the majority of the community does. Further, the people of Minnesota do not find the name acceptable, and it must change.