The Redskins are fighting a battle they can’t win

Posted Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2014  comments  Print Reprints
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sanders On the day the Washington Redskins came to play the Dallas Cowboys last October, I weighed in on the team mascot controversy by saying it was time Washington got rid of the derogatory name and symbol.

This came after the team’s owner, Dan Snyder, vowed that he would never change the name and insisted that the mascot honors Native Americans.

Since then, things have heated up regarding the Redskins nickname, especially after NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell commented on it during his annual Super Bowl week news conference.

Although noting he had been “listening” to the opponents of the name, Goodell said: “We are trying to make sure we understand the issues. Let me remind you: This is the name of a football team, a football team that’s had that name for 80 years and has presented the name in a way that has honored Native Americans.”

He went on to cite a poll that showed 9 in 10 Native Americans support the name and 8 in 10 Americans in the general population would not change it.

Two members of Congress, Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., and Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., sent a letter to Goodell saying that the NFL was on the wrong side of history and that Redskins “is, in fact, an insult to Native Americans,” according to The Washington Post.

The letter also implied that Congress could take a look at the NFL’s tax-exempt status, saying, “It is not appropriate for this multibillion-dollar 501(c)(6) tax-exempt organization to perpetuate and profit from the continued degradation of tribes and Indian people.”

A team representative retorted by email: “With all the important issues Congress has to deal with, such as a war in Afghanistan to deficits to healthcare, don’t they have more important issues to worry about than a football team’s name?”

To which Ray Halbritter of the Oneida Indian Nation replied, “The NFL is a publicly subsidized $9 billion-a-year brand with global reach, and it is using those public resources and that brand to promote a dictionary defined racial slur. … Congress has a responsibility to the American people to put an end to this kind of taxpayer-subsidized bigotry.”

The Redskins organization has begun its own PR campaign with what it calls “Community Voices,” which will present reactions to the team’s name from other Native Americans.

In a statement released Feb. 17 under the Community Voices heading, the organization listed a lot of challenges that plague Native Americans, such as joblessness, substandard housing and shortages of such basic needs as clean water and winter clothing.

“However, for most Native Americans, the name of our football team is something they support,” the statement said. “It’s important to listen to and respect the voices and opinions of the Native American community. Here is more of what they have been saying.”

Before listing statements from three Native Americans in Oklahoma, Maryland and California, the news release said the Redskins had received more than 7,000 letters and emails in favor of the name, “including almost 200 from people who identified themselves as Native Americans or as family members of Native Americans.”

It went on to cite the same polls to which Goodell referred.

The problem with the “almost 200” number is, according to the 2010 Census figures, there are 5.2 million people in the United States identified as American Indian and Alaska Native, either alone or in combination with one or more other races.

There are more than 550 federally recognized Native American tribes.

Snyder and his organization need to recognize they are fighting a loosing battle.

It may be a long time coming, as singer Sam Cooke would say, “but I know a change is gonna come, oh yes it will.”

Bob Ray Sanders' column appears Sundays and Wednesdays. 817-390-7775 Twitter: @BobRaySanders

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