Back in 2009 when the Supreme Court declined to take up the case concerning the racist name and logo for the Washington National Football League (NFL) team – owned officially by a corporate entity called “Pro Football Inc.” – this writer opined that the team was and remains “snakebit.”
The team that was the last to hire a Black player, the team with the most offensive name in all of athletics, all sports, all levels – professional, collegiate, high school, even children’s neighborhood teams – that team continues to suffer bad karma, it’s as though the team has been snakebit.
Like so many fans of the Doug Williams-Joe Gibbs-John Riggins-Joe Theismann-Darrell Green era, I was enamored with the champions who wore the burgundy and gold. During the 1992 season when they fielded a “Dream Team” – winning all but one game including the Super Bowl – I managed to attend each and every home game at RFK Stadium. To feel the bleachers in that stadium actually rock and bounce with the motion of the enthusiasm for the team is an unforgettable experience.
But something else happened that year. It was the 500th anniversary of Christopher Columbus coming to the New World, and a group of Native Americans took it upon themselves to picket every single home game. In addition, a group led by attorney Suzan Shown Harjo, a member of the Cheyenne and Hodulgee Muscogee Nation, challenged the team’s trademarks which had been issued in 1967.
A new case has been filed before the patent board by a group of younger plaintiffs after the original case was overturned and is scheduled to be heard in March of this year. Meanwhile, a new National Museum of the American Indian has risen on the National Mall, and the museum recently held an all-day symposium on “racist stereotypes and cultural appropriation in American sports.”
Former U.S. Sen. Ben “Nighthorse” Campbell, a Democrat turned Republican from Colorado attended and he declared that the four most offensive words ever spoken to him were: “savage,” “squaw,” “buck,” and of course “redskin.”
Never mind that some football fans insist they are “honoring” the bravery of Native Americans by imitating tribal dress and customs which they don’t understand, Dr. C. Richard King, co-editor of the Encyclopedia of Native Americans in Sports, and a professor at Washington State University says those who believe that are simply holding on to a “sincere fiction.” The reality is that objectifying Native people with sports team names in Washington, Kansas City, Cleveland, and Atlanta, is ugly and offensive.
Even the spectacle which is staged before games by Florida State University when their mascot Seminole “Chief Osceola” rides out on a horse and plunges his spear [presumably into the head of an opposing team player], is a lie and a disgrace [even though the university compensates the tribe], according to Dr. E. Newton Jackson, a D.C. native, who is now associate provost and professor of sport management at the University of North Florida.”
Chief Osceola, was an escaped African slave who ran away to join the tribe in the Great Dismal Swamp. But, Jackson said, he could not ride a horse, and when he tried to make peace with America, he was captured and beheaded.
With that in mind, I had to ask the big question: “What do Black folks like myself, who have supported the Indian cause since 1992 tell folks who throw up in my face the fact that in 2012 the Cherokee Nation disenfranchised thousands of Black Indians, declaring they are officially not members of the tribe they believed they belonged to for decades?” I posed that question to panel
moderator Dr. Manley A. Begay Jr., who is co-director of the Project on American Indian Economic Development at Harvard University, and a trustee of the Museum of the American Indian.
Dr. Begay stammered for a few seconds, and then asked if there were any Cherokees in the room, declaring that the various Indian “nations” are just that, independent, self-governing “nations” which are recognized as such by the U.S. Constitution. So much for an answer to my Great Black-Indian question.
However, there’s some good news. Since 1968 when Native groups began urging high schools and colleges to voluntarily drop names tied to Native Americans, hundreds of schools have discontinued their use of Indian names and mascots. Current National Collegiate Athletic Association policy bars schools with “hostile and abusive” American Indian-related names from participating in championship or playoff games.
Stanford University, St. Bonaventure University, The College of William & Mary and Dartmouth College have all dropped their Indian monikers. Go Washington