Let’s call a spade a spade… The fact that sports leagues are happening in the middle of a global pandemic, in the face of literal, mortal danger is a grand testament to capitalism. Someday they’ll look back on our poor quality footage of players being sprayed down before practice, and say yo, that was insane!
Now, that name in the title — this is the first time you’ve seen the Washington Football Team’s moniker on my website (go ahead, control/command+F away). There is a reason for that. I don’t get down with it. I loved Clinton Portis, Santana Moss and Sean Taylor, but it always seemed like a strange thing to me. My mom is half black and half Native American. I always identified strongly with the indigenous side of my family which is rooted in the Tulalip Tribes Indian Reservation in the PNW. It always seemed a little funky that there was a mascot and team named after the people who’s land was stolen and families slaughtered… the family that I knew growing up had always been so quick to embrace me and give me love and support. I’ll admit, I didn’t see the day when the name would change coming.
This climate of instability provides our country with the space and time to question and re-think a lot of things. We don’t need to be slaves to “tradition” any longer. For all of its ugly, disgusting warts of racism and hypocrisy, two very alluring things about the USA are the ideals of social mobility and democracy. Democracy means that the people hold the power, not the government. It has been said that when government fears the people, there is liberty. When the people fear the government, there is tyranny.
Although democracy can be a great thing, we have to remember that those in power will, so many times, do whatever it takes to keep their status, cover their tracks, and discredit those who stand up to them. We’ve seen this a ton from politicians in recent times, as well as from those who oppose change. In fact, there have been whole systems created just to maintain the status quo. We are dealing with a multi-billion dollar industry and corporation in the National Football League. Did you hear about the story that broke in the Washington Post recently about the Skins’ toxic culture of sexual harassment and verbal abuse? It reeks of privilege and abuse of power, if nothing else.
Daniel Snyder may not have been directly named, but his leadership was listed as a contributing factor in a toxic work environment. Nancy Armour said it best when she stated: “The fact that Washington executives felt entitled to degrade women and treat them with such disrespect should surprise no one. Their boss, Snyder, displayed that same contemptuous attitude toward Native Americans by clinging to a racist nickname and logo that anyone with decency would have discarded long ago”. Daniel is well-known for his stance that he would keep the R-dsk-ns name no matter who it offended. He was quoted as saying that he will NEVER change the name, and instructed the writer to put it in all caps (now look at ‘cha). He has been criticized for some bogus research data, and there has been speculation that he has paid off Native American spokespeople. Can you imagine if the new team is either the redwolves or the redhogs? The Indian would just be getting swapped out for an animal. I think that speaks volumes to the dehumanization of using race caricatures as mascots.
This isn’t just a case of political correctness running amok (a common argument meant to deflect and divert the conversation): social science research says that sports mascots and images, rather than being mere entertainment, are important symbols with deeper psychological and social effects. According to the Center for Native American youth, suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death – and 2.5 times the national rate – for American Indian/Alaskan Native youth in the 15-24 age group. Natives are more than six times more likely to die of alcohol related causes than the general population. I’m a conspiracy theorist when it comes to disadvantaged groups and the harm of societal neglect and systemic oppression (That’s the topic of a whole ‘notha article). Native communities need to be invested in and supported at this point. But wouldn’t ya know: they don’t care about your self esteem and the global perpetuation of harmful stereotypes though… as long as it is profitable.
In this day and age, we as minorities have more of a voice than had ever been allowed in the U.S. It’s because we had to fight for it. If there was a team called the Blackskins or the Yellow-Skins that rocked with a caricature of our race, we all know that it would get changed real quick. The Washington R-dsk-ns moniker took an underrepresented racial group and effectively reduced them to a mascot, a derogatory name and a stereotypical caricature… That’s the issue with marginalized populations: we don’t always have a voice with which to speak up for ourselves.
Indigenous communities have resisted discriminatory colonial powers, extractive industries, and corporate greed with tremendous resilience, courage, and skill, but their protests are too often ignored by governments and corporations.–culturalsurvival.org
They will greet you, kiss you, accept your gifts, make promises, then kill you and take your land and family members. They will then name their sports teams to “honor you” and tell you to stop being so sensitive. The effects of that kind of an exchange (genocide) last for a very long time in the psyche of a society. The use of American Indian mascots and team names in North America has drawn criticism and activism from many people including Native Americans, social scientists, and religious and educational groups among many others, dating back until at least the 1960’s. The research says that the reinforcement of stereotypes have a real affect on underrepresented groups. How could it not, after the level of disdain for their lives that was shown to them?
Daniel Snyder would not change the name because of his value of pride, tradition and brand equity. What is brand equity? It’s something that companies and corporations spend a ton of money, time and consultation hours on. It is how much weight your branding and name carry in people’s hearts and minds. Do they trust you? Do they think that your values align with theirs? Do they believe you represent something of quality? How do they feel about you versus the competitors? When you rebrand, many times you have to start from close to zero brand equity, since you have an entirely new brand. Good brand equity often times means much higher revenue and ability to sell your product. Name brands can slap their logo on anything and people will buy it and talk about it. Brand equity is everything to execs, and it meant more to Daniel Snyder than any harm that his brand may have been doing to marginalized groups across the country.
The stunting of his cash flow by Nike, FedEx and other investors is what forced him to change. FedEx restricted their ability to negotiate a new stadium contract, and Nike, Walmart, Amazon and Target took Washington products down from their websites. Going after his chips might’ve been the only thing on this earth that could have forced him. No social justice campaign, psychological study or impassioned plea could change Daniel Snyder’s mind… but money could — and it was beautiful to watch unfold. Isn’t that a crazy parallel for America right now? Tradition, power and money have been priorities over doing the right thing throughout our history. Progress has been embarrassingly and excruciatingly slow at times. Now is a moment to change that.
It’s easy to see this change as simply something to help pacify all of the civil unrest that has been exploding across the country. When the league is informing teams of how social justice issues will be addressed in Week 1 (Black Nat’l Anthem?? 😱), it’s natural to be skeptical and weary… Kaepernick was blackballed for having the audacity to kneel to bring attention to police brutality, and now, all of a sudden the league is now letting the players know how its going to go down. Let them wear controlled decals, splash it on the ground where they play and if they want to act out, they will need to follow the acting out protocols!! Make no mistake, the league feels they have to do this to keep some level of control so that they don’t watch things spiral out of their hands. Let’s not be fooled. We had to FIGHT even for this level of action. There are rumors that Patrick Mahomes’ inclusion (he is the league’s new money maker and golden boy) in the Goerge Floyd video is what spurred quick action from the NFL. How incredibly sad and backwards if that is true. AN NFL EMPLOYEE HAD TO GO ROGUE AND RISK HIS JOB TO MAKE THIS HAPPEN!!!
Although I find myself thinking very critically of the signs and gestures that I see in the media, I have to remind myself that the more that our struggle is being talked about in any capacity is a win. I think Kap is proud. I have to remind myself that we fought to have this conversation, so we might as well use this stage, no matter how insincere or misguided any of the gestures may be. Although we have to uphold the fight amid so many distractions, we have to remind ourselves that these young kids are seeing black men and women leveraging their power for the culture on television. These kids are watching, as we all comply with or fight against the oppressive structures of this society.
At a time in this world when we have to stay at home, having athletes, entertainers and community leaders speak up and speak out to the community has been an important piece of this moment in time. We have refused to be quiet. “Our suffering is connected: The plantation and the reservation are manifestations of systemic mistreatment that continues to this day”. Although there is more to fight for in helping devastated American Indian communities flourish, fighting for space to give natives more of a voice and helping to dismantle racially harmful systems is a damn good place to start! That is an imperative in a democracy that holds such high ideals in both its Declaration of Independence as well as in its Constitution. We can’t preach equality to the children, when we’ve got racist caricatures of the people whom our country subjugated running onto the field. And you can’t see how that’s a bad look?
I’m looking forward to more wholesale changes. One of the women who it accusing the Washington team of years of sexual harassment mentioned that she knows that many other teams across different sports leagues operate in a similarly vile way. This can’t stand, especially amongst these billionaire owners. You know what else? If there are any instances of paying off refs (also referenced in the “R-dsk-ns Scandal”)… that needs to be addressed immediately as well. It didn’t do Washington any good, but we need to protect the spirit of fair competition in the National Football League. We need to level the playing field for all… at all costs.
The environment is Washington D.C. lies in stark contrast to the glory days of Joe Gibbs and the legacy that he and Jack Kent Cooke left before Daniel Snyder assumed ownership (and after GPM was forced to integrate). After watching the “A Football Life” feature on Joe Gibbs, it was obvious that he was incredible at creating a unifying, hard-working family atmosphere. He rallied a team behind Doug Williams, the first African American quarterback to ever win a Super Bowl. He was wildly successful and is counted by many as one of the greatest head coaches of all-time. The way he operated with humility, devotion and gratitude was astounding. He said it best himself: “And yet, what we’re gonna leave on this earth is the influence on others”. Those at the top have the power to create a culture of peace and health, or one of toxicity. That’s why we’ve got to get this dude out of office while he’s trying to convince people that there is a war on the suburbs going on.
Indians, in many ways, don’t have a voice and say in things because of both the ruthless killing off of our people, as well as continued neglect and underrepresentation to this day. Bump Columbus Day and bump Thanksgiving bro… like forget about them, they are straight trash. Grimy testaments to oppression. I’m off it. Look at the history (one that wasn’t fully taught to us in school) and try not to get depressed. Other minority groups have been able to band together and fight, and we again need to force their hand. I’m convinced that one of the only things that the NFL cares about is revenue and buy-in of its product. Capitalism has a tendency to take advantage of people and ideas for however long it can until the scales tip from benefitting them to even mildly inconveniencing them. Just remember that and keep your eyes open. Let’s not congratulate these sometimes hollow actions. Even though it can feel like any victory, any inch of justice is momentous… We must continue fighting for what is right, and not be distracted by snakes who are simply looking for the next scheme. In Washington, it’s #HTTR indeed… for them its ‘revenue’, but for those down with the cause, it’s Hail to the Revolution!