Several local and national Native American leaders were out to protest the Washington vs. Cowboys game on Monday night in Arlington. Their objection? The Washington team's name, which is a long-held racial slur toward indigenous peoples. The name that starts with the letter R. You know the one we're talking about.
The move comes as part of increasing opposition to the team's name. Media outlets across the country have pledged not to use the name of the team in publications. Some sources, such as NPR, are instructing limited use of the word. Politicians and Native American advocates have also come out in adamant opposition.
"Every civil rights group in America, half the United States Senate, literally every Native American organization, has said the name is not appropriate and it should be changed," says Joel Barkin, a spokesman for the Oneida Indian Nation.
"I think what we've seen over the last year is a real understanding of the inappropriateness and the offensiveness that the Washington's team name has for Native Americans," he says. "People who have not often been given the opportunity to speak for themselves are saying that no, this is not an honor. So these spontaneous-type protests, as in Dallas, are so significant because the people are choosing to speak for themselves rather than having someone else determine what is and what isn't offensive."
Calls for the team to change their name have been active for several years. Yet with increasing political support, and media recognition of the issue, Washington is starting to feel the pressure.
"Every week that this debate is going on, more and more people are realizing that it's unacceptable to use a dictionary- and government-defined slur," Barkin says. "But you're dealing with entrenched power making billions off this slur. So they're not going to relinquish without a fight."
Notably, Cowboys-owner Jerry Jones recently defended the team's name, citing nostalgia and the iconic brand as viable reasons to maintain the name. "I think it's pretty pointed that this name is one of pride; this name is one of competition; this name is one of a lot of great things that have happened with this franchise. And [it] should be looked at that way," said Jones, according to the Washington Post, just last week.
Barkin counters that the term has never been associated with pride within Native American communities. "If you look in literature, in pop culture, how it's been used, you can pull up ads that describe 'redskin' as a bounty for killing Native Americans. That's the history of this term. So while there should be a broader discussion for using the Native American as a mascot, there is no gray area for using a dictionary-definition of a slur. Just because you say you're honoring someone doesn't make those who are the target of that word feel like they're being honored."
He adds, "Would you feel comfortable calling a Native American a redskin to their face? If your answer is no, if it isn't acceptable in everyday conversation, it shouldn't be a team name. It isn't a difficult concept."
As a side note: We should probably say that the Observer has no official policy toward the use of the team's name in articles. That team whose name starts with an R. You know the one we're talking about.
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