Activist Amanda Blackhorse says she is concerned over the clarity around Washington NFL’s rebrand. Photo by Carly Henry / Cronkite News

'David and Goliath': Arizona leaders applaud name change of NFL Washington team

Cronkite News

PHOENIX – Washington’s NFL team on Monday officially dropped its name, a derogatory term for Native Americans that the team has held since 1933.

Native leaders and supporters in Arizona hailed a change activists have been working toward for years. The reactions ranged from relief to reflection – and at least one suggestion for a new name.

Reflecting on a victory years in the making
“Today is truly a monumental day in our fight to eliminate racist ‘Native’ mascots and names in professional sports. Farewell to the Washington team’s racist r-word name and logo!” she said in a news release. “As much as I want to fully celebrate this day, I am concerned with the Washington team’s lack of clarity around their rebrand. In their statement, they did not commit to rebranding without any ‘Native’ names, themes, or imagery. Given the history of the Washington franchise and recent public statement from Coach Ron Rivera, they’ve mentioned favoring new branding that honors Native people and the military. In order for the Washington team to truly stand for racial equality, a 100% rebrand of the Washington franchise with NO Native themes/imagery/names is required.”
-- Amanda Blackhorse
An activist and member of the Navajo Nation, Blackhorse was a plaintiff in the lawsuit Blackhorse v. Pro Football Inc. (2014)

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez has suggested the Washington team’s new nickname should be ‘‘Code Talkers’’ -- after Native Americans who used Native language as a secret communication to help win the war for Allies in World War II. Photo by Sarah Donahue / Cronkite News

Choose a new name that honors Native American: Code Talkers
“For us, here in the Navajo Nation, we are grateful; we appreciate that the name will not be used anymore. But we have been advocating for that for some time, and Amanda (Blackhorse) has been at the forefront of this and I appreciate her strength and her resilience even though she is dealing with others out there, maybe non-Natives that are pushing back on this. If this name has been utilized for many decades to put down Native Americans, here is a chance for the NFL and the team to get it right. Maybe there needs to be a name that honors Native Americans, American Indians and their contributions to the freedom in this country. We’ve suggested that maybe they should be called the ‘Code Talkers’ (after Native Americans who used Native language as a secret communication to help win the war for Allies in World War II.) To honor them by changing the name of the ‘Redskins’ to the ‘Code Talkers’ to highlight the contribution of tribes to this great country of ours would be a great step for the NFL and the team.”
-- Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez

Calling on all teams to stop ‘disparaging terms and logos’
“We must continue to work together to correct these issues and to shed light on the historical and current injustices that affect all Indigenous people,” he said in a news release. One of those remedies is to cease the use of the disparaging terms and logos among all teams and organizations. We must stand united in correcting our storied history. It is our responsibility to ensure that our children and their children have the benefit of historical facts.”
-- Navajo Nation Vice President Myron Lizer

Rep. Raul Grijalva said today is a day “for all of us to reflect on the many other ways we’ve done them harm and can start to make amends.” Photo by Fortesa Latifi / Cronkite News

Plunging profits led to decision
“The campaign to end this form of racism has been going on for years, but the team owner and many of the people who have profited from it have insisted they’d never change. Today’s announcement comes because those profits are drying up after years of tireless campaigning to end this injustice. Native Americans have faced racism since before our country was even founded, and today is a chance for all of us to reflect on the many other ways we’ve done them harm and can start to make amends. This change ends one instance of associating Native men, women and children with fundamentally racist branding, but there are many other instances and the people responsible for them need to make the same change.”
-- Congressman Raúl M. (D-Ariz.)

“Mascots” misinterpret Native culture
“In the 20th Century, teams began to adopt names with Indians and oftentimes Indians have been driven out of those areas years before. They don’t understand Indian culture, they don’t understand Indian values or Indian beliefs and most importantly, they don’t understand the history of American Indians and the United States. It’s a very problematic, troubling history, and the term ‘redskin’ is one of the most troubling names around. It is the equivalent to the ‘n-word’ for African-Americans.”
-- James Riding In, member of the Pawnee Nation, co-founder American Indian studies
Riding In is co-founder and an associate professor of American Indian Studies at Arizona State University.

“It’s a victory over greedy corporations that refuse to listen to the voices of Native people,” said activist Douglas Miles, referring to it as a “David and Goliath scenario.” Photo courtesy of Douglas Miles

‘David” triumphs over ‘Goliath’
“I feel it is a victory. It’s a victory over greedy corporations that refuse to listen to the voices of Native people and tried repeatedly to silence and basically destroy the voice of Native activists who for decades have fought against this racist mascot caricature of Native American people. It’s almost like a ‘David and Goliath’ scenario. They didn’t really care until Black Lives Matter began to shine a light on every corner of America’s society and the systemic racism that exists in it… the next step is to look at other teams that also have Native American-type imagery and mascots. Nobody wants to be a sidekick or a stereotype, and nobody deserves to be. Any sports franchise would be smart to reach out to community leaders like myself and ask what we think about it.”
-- Douglas Miles, activist in the Apache Nation and founder of The WHATE TRIBE Project

Time to make a long overdue change
“I think it’s about time. This has been a controversy and a problem for a number of years. Although there are a number of sports teams out there that have Indian-type names, the ‘Washington Redskins’ is probably one of the more racist terms out there as far as how it pertains to Native people. The franchise is better than that and certainly applaud the efforts of many, many people to use this moment that we find ourselves in American society to continue to push and to change that name.”
-- Matthew Sakiestewa Gilbert, UA professor, member of the Hopi Nation
Gilbert heads the department of American Indian Studies at the University of Arizona.

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Note: This story originally appeared on Cronkite News. It is published via a Creative Commons license. Cronkite News is produced by the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.

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