One Native American group is urging Washington Redskins players to sit out this season and speak out over the team’s name — something that is widely considered to be both racist and offensive.
Fawn Sharp, the president of the National Congress of American Indians, penned a letter in the Washingtonian on Friday urging Redskins players to “rip down that name like it was a statue of a Confederate general in their locker room,” and to “rise to the occasion and become heroes.”
“Just as you would never play for the Washington [insert any other racial slur],” she argued, players shouldn’t play for a “team branded with a racial slur against Native Americans.”
“The racial slur can no longer be removed by the complicit, indifferent, tone-deaf ownership of the franchise, because the stain they have fixed onto their own name and enterprises is now permanent,” Sharp wrote. “It is an insult that can no longer be retracted, a sin that can no longer be erased.
“Since it’s too late to give the team name up, it’s time for it to be taken.”
A long history of racism
The Redskins did remove a memorial to George Preston Marshall outside of RFK Stadium earlier this month. Marshall, the founding owner of the team, was a staunch segregationist and a racist who refused to sign any Black players until he was forced to by the federal government. The statue was vandalized the night before, with the words “change the name” painted in red in front of the memorial.
Marshall gave the team the Redskins name in 1933 despite it’s very clear racist meaning — Dictionary.com defines the word as “a contemptuous term used to refer to a North American Indian” — and current owner Dan Snyder has frequently fought to keep the name. Snyder even once told ESPN that he believes the term is one of “honor” and “respect.”
“We’ll never change the name,” he told USA Today in 2013. “It’s that simple. NEVER — you can use caps.”
The United States Patent and Trademark Office canceled the team’s trademarks in 2014, ruling that they are “disparaging to Native Americans.” That rule was vacated in 2018.
While Snyder seems firmly set in his ways, Sharp argued that any player who does take a stand will be hailed as a hero. She also compared the stance to ones that Muhammad Ali or Colin Kaepernick took, though noted the stance may not be welcomed by all right away.
“Despite the financial losses, the vicious ridicule, the hatred and threats of countless reactionaries — Kaepernick stands triumphant, as validated by history as Muhammad Ali was for refusing to fight the Viet Cong for the same government that everyday abused, imprisoned, and killed his Black brothers and sisters,” Sharp wrote.
“If you stand against the Washington, D.C., franchise, you may lose a few NFL fans, but you will gain a few million Native American friends and allies who will stand by your side as your brothers and sisters for long after your playing days are over.”
Now is the time
During a time where countless athletes across the sports world are taking a stand for social justice, Sharp knows that now is the perfect moment to finally fix the Redskins team name.
She just needs the players’ help.
“The only question is what player will show the courage, the integrity, the vision and the compassion to be the hero that first stands up for what is right,” Sharp wrote. “The fact that you will win the standoff, one way or another, should be self-evident. … When it comes to doing the right thing, there can only be one motto: Just do it.”
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