The Black-Indian Question

Askia Muhammad | 2/13/2013, 2:07 p.m.

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.