While Washington football players entered their preseason game against the Cleveland Browns with a touching tribute to Michael Brown and the protests in Ferguson, Missouri, several of the team’s fans attempted to conduct a tribute of their own to the people the team’s “Redskins” name represents.
Outside the stadium before the game, WTOP’s Michelle Basch found two fans who went beyond the normal gameday attire to don full Native American garb, including headdresses and war paint, to FedEx Field on Monday night:
— Michelle Basch (@mbaschWTOP) August 18, 2014
The Washington Post’s Dan Steinberg noticed other fans in the stands wearing headdresses:
— Dan Steinberg (@dcsportsbog) August 18, 2014
This is hardly a new occurrence at Washington games — in fact, it’s a long tradition — but it naturally attracts more attention at a time when the team’s name is under increasing scrutiny. During a recent media tour to defend the name, Washington owner Daniel Snyder reiterated that to him and the team’s fans the name and everything that comes with it “represents honor, represents respect, represents pride.” Native Americans who oppose the name, however, have said the opposite, arguing that mascots that use Native American names and imagery make it easier for fans like these to appropriate cultural markers in a way that has damaging social and psychological consequences for their communities (the American Sociological and American Psychological associations have both passed resolutions calling for the elimination of such names and mascots for this reason).
Last year, an official from the National Congress of American Indians told ThinkProgress that wearing headdresses and face paint — — sacred religious aspects of Native American culture — amounts to “making fun of religion and our culture.” A Native American high school student echoed those concerns in a recent speech on the effects of mascots and imagery in sports.
While Washington doesn’t want to change its name, it and the NFL (which also supports the name) could meet its opponents halfway on headdresses with relative ease. Teams across sports have policies banning signs they have deemed offensive from their stadiums, and Major League Baseball’s San Francisco Giants have considered banning headdresses after two fans complained about others wearing them during a Native American Heritage Night game in July. A popular Canadian music festival instituted a similar policy this summer.
But the tradition of wearing headdresses lives on in Washington (and other places with similar mascots) even as Native Americans continue to argue against it. And to Oneida Indian Nation representative Ray Halbritter, who has emerged as one of the biggest opponents of keeping “Redskins” as the name of Washington’s football team, that only makes it clearer that the name needs to change.
“This is proof that for all of Dan Snyder’s claims that he wants to honor Native Americans, his pathological desire to slur Native Americans does exactly the opposite: it encourages millions of people to see our culture as nothing more than a mascot or a costume,” Halbritter said in a statement. “Mr. Snyder is actively and deliberately dehumanizing people by continuing to promote, market and profit off of this slur, and this shows his efforts are having the intended effect. Because of Mr. Snyder’s refusal to change his team’s name, Washington fans are now proudly lampooning Native American culture at Washington games. This lack of cultural sensitivity shows exactly why this name must finally be changed.”