I live in Washington, DC, and while I'd love to root for my home football team, I just can’t do it. I’m Cheyenne and Muscogee and I think the name of the Washington NFL franchise is a racist slur. R*d*k*ns is the worst thing in the English language Native people can be called. That's why I launched a lawsuit in 1992 -- to try to get the Washington franchise to change its dreadful name. Now, 21 years and one lawsuit later, momentum is building in the media and across America for the NFL and Pro Football, Inc. to finally do the right thing.
The team was the last in the NFL to allow African-American players on the field, and that was only after the federal government stepped in and forced integration. But the franchise has continued its racist legacy towards Native people. The NFL and the Washington owner have an opportunity to do what's right, but the roots of oppression run deep in our nation's capital.
Can you imagine a team called the Washington "Blackskins" or even the worst? Many people may remember that less than two decades ago, the DC basketball team owner changed its name from the Bullets to the Wizards after his friend was assassinated by a bullet. If an NBA team in the nation's capitol can change its name because of its negative connotations, why not an NFL team in 2013 in the backyard of the first African-American president in history?
So why is the NFL allowing this racist team name to exist despite a policy that does not allow “conduct detrimental to the integrity of and public confidence in the National Football League?” It’s irresponsible and offensive to have a high-profile league like the NFL approve of this type of hurtful language. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and franchise owner Daniel Snyder may not relate to this personally, but they have a responsibility to consider how this racist team name is offensive to Americans across the country.
Many in the nearly 600 Native American nations and tribes in the United States have been deeply offended by this team name for decades. Having developed Native laws in five decades and having led our largest Native organization for one of them, I understand what it takes to challenge deeply rooted systems of injustice, and I know that many people have not thought about how much this racist team name affects Native American people and communities.
Dr. Stephanie Fryberg, an expert psychologist on self-esteem, says that such names and mascots promote the “activation of negative attitudes and behaviors towards contemporary American Indians” and “reinforce inequality, undermine race relations in this country.”
The National Congress of American Indians, National Indian Education Association, Native American Rights Fund, American Indian Movement Grand Council, International Indian Treaty Council and all major national Native American organizations support this movement against racists sports stereotypes and have called for the NFL to not allow such a racist team name to continue. At a recent symposium at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian, scholars, sports writers, organizational representatives and others voiced their conclusions that the Washington franchise's name is simply indefensible.
In school, kids are taught to stand up to bullies. What lesson is the NFL teaching kids if it ignores the pleas of Native Americans who are bullied by this disparaging name and are bullied again when we object? The NFL has so many teams, and most have wonderful names. Why is the NFL letting Washington ruin its reputation?
Please sign this petition to ask the NFL and the Washington franchise to change the team name to something that is not a racial slur and does not harm anyone.
Suzan Harjo started this petition with a single signature, and now has 1,511 supporters. Start a petition today to change something you care about.