Almost 30 times I heard it. Literally hundreds of times I saw it.
No one apparently got the memo, especially the stadium public address announcer, who said it with gusto. Many proudly wore it like a badge of honor.
I’m referring to the Washington NFL football team’s longstanding racist nickname and equally racist logo — the “R” word.
Many wore it with pride.
At least an hour or so before last Thursday’s nationally televised game, the MSR gingerly approached over 60 persons, most if not all wearing some sort of visiting team apparel as they came through Gate F at the Metrodome. We asked them all a two-part question: Should the team change or keep the Washington nickname?
Afterwards, in a much quicker fashion than the Minneapolis City officials finalized last week’s election results, our poll found 51 persons who want to keep the name; 12 said change it. Forty-one Whites and eight Blacks said keep it; 10 Whites and two Blacks favor a name change.
“Why not keep [the nickname]? They had it this long,” said a White male.
“I support my husband,” said a White female, who favors the name.
“It’s just a team name. I don’t think it’s offensive. If anything, [Native] people should be honored,” surmised a White male.
Jarrett, a local Black Washington fan, admitted that he didn’t know the Washington team’s sordid history. When he heard about the late team founder’s not wanting any Blacks on his team and supporting a 13-year ban to keep Black players out of the NFL, becoming the last pro football team in America to integrate only after the Kennedy administration forced him to in 1962, Jarret relented somewhat.
“If the [nickname] is that offensive to Native people…then they should explore different names. But you have a huge fan base that loves the name,” responded Jarrett.
The MSR also ran into a group of visiting Black fans from D.C.: “Why we got to change the name now?” a Black female strongly commented. “They had the name for years, and now all of a sudden they want to start protesting. I don’t agree at all. [Owner] Daniel Snyder should not change the name.”
Obviously the woman hadn’t heard about the American Indian Movement (AIM) and the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), two groups that have been protesting the Washington nickname and other similarly racist and offensive names since the 1960s.
A Black man, also a part of the visiting group, pondered what if another group wants an NFL team to change its nickname — for example, he said, dogs’ or birds’ nicknames could offend dog lovers and bird watchers.
Washington, D.C. broadcaster Mark Gray reported, “You have a lot of people in the Black community that are going to be [using] the team’s proper name, and you got a lot of Black people who are uncomfortable with it.”
Dr. Anton Treuer of Bemidji State University told the MSR, “There’s not universal agreement in the tribal community [on the R-word].” But he quickly noted, “The word ‘redskin’ is a slur, and the use of Native Americans as mascots for sports teams invites fans to play Indian and dress in hokey caricature.”
The aforementioned Black man from Virginia argued that when Native Americans compare the R-word with still-used N-word, “There’s no comparison. The N-word is totally something different than what they are arguing about getting a name change. They are looking at it the wrong way, I think.”
“I don’t think it is really appropriate, given the history of what happened to the Indians. I think if they could change the name that would be more appropriate,” said Michael Yeboah, a Black man from Windsor, Ontario [Canada] of the Washington nickname.
Nancy Sims, a Black woman from Brooklyn Park, added, “I just feel like that’s their name and I don’t have a problem with it.”
One Black man, however, was neutral. “If there was a vote, I probably wouldn’t vote [to change the name], but it doesn’t matter anyway,” said the man who smiled while wearing a Washington sweatshirt with the embroided R-word.
“I absolutely think we should not change the Washington [nickname],” said a White man who briefly gave me a history lesson. “Back in the day, it actually was a tribute to the American Indians. The only people who seem to have a problem with it are people who are not American Indian.”
“Society is becoming a bunch of sissies — too damn liberal,” noted a young White man who also sported a Washington shirt.
Personally I cringed last week in the Metrodome press box or while walking around inside it when I saw \ and heard the R-word. It’s the same feeling I get whenever I hear the N-word, shaking my head in disbelief whenever Blacks try justifying its use.
“While I appreciate the right we have in America to be ignorant and to be offensive, I still don’t think that right should be so freely exercised just because we can,” surmises Treuer. “That’s what a lot of the supportive response on mascots boils down to: ‘I know it’s kind of rude but I’m going to do it anyway, and those Indians should just get over it.”
“It’s going to be changed at some point,” predicts Jarrett. “Maybe not this year, but it will be changed,” echoing similar sentiments by others who believe the same. However, until then, the Washington team will continue to sport the R-word, and there will be people both Black and White who support it to no end.
“It’s been here a long time, so keep it,” concludes a Black man who supports the racist-inspired Washington name.
“They don’t understand why this word ‘redskin’ [is bad],” concludes Joey Browner, a former Minnesota Vikings player who proudly calls himself a “Nativist” with Native American roots.
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to [email protected].