- The Washington Times - Friday, February 8, 2013

Hundreds of people gathered Thursday at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian for a discussion of sports teams’ use of racially insensitive imagery that, as such discussions often do, turned into an ongoing complaint against a certain Washington football team’s continued use of a certain Indian-inspired nickname.

Few seats were empty in the Rasmuson Theater at the museum, which hosted a daylong forum to discuss the stereotype perpetuated by American Indian mascots, who is to blame for their use, and how — or whether — the practice can be stopped.

Much of the discussion focused on the Washington Redskins.

“What better common bond can you have than a sports team you want to support wholeheartedly,” said Robert Holden, deputy director for the National Congress of American Indians. “But I cannot in good conscience support the local football team. We cannot feel a sense of community in that regard.”

The franchise has used the name Redskins since 1933, when the team played in Boston. Officials have said they have no intention of changing the name, which has been the subject of a long-running federal trademark lawsuit and several popular resolutions by local government bodies.

During a press conference before the Super Bowl, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell acknowledged that the team name can spark affection and anger, but that Redskins owner Dan Snyder was proud of the name and its heritage.

“I believe fans are, too,” Mr. Goodell said. “I also understand the other side of that. I don’t think anybody wants to offend anybody.”

Mr. Holden, a Choctaw/Chickasaw Indian, said Mr. Snyder can keep his sentiments.

“I don’t think the owners understand that they’re not honoring us,” Mr. Holden said. “If they’re still saying that, please, take it back. Honors like that we don’t need, we don’t want.”

E. Newton Jackson, a professor of sports management at the University of North Florida, said that one reason some fans have resisted changing the name is that they confuse loyalty to the name with loyalty to the team.

“A lot of institutions have not quite accepted the dialogue that there are some issues with race and ethnicity,” he said.

The issue around the Redskins‘ name recently flared up after several commentators called on the team to change it. D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray during a recent press conference avoided using the word “Redskins” while discussing whether the team would ever call the District home again and added that before any hypothetical move back to the District, he would want to sit down with the team to discuss whether a change could be made.

Eileen Maxwell, spokeswoman for the American Indian museum, said the forum had been scheduled for November but the gathering was canceled as a result of Superstorm Sandy. She said the discussion on the Redskins‘ name was not originally on the agenda, but after the recent attention, forum organizers decided to “go for it.”

Ms. Maxwell said neither Mr. Snyder nor any other member of the Redskins‘ organization was invited to appear on the panel, but had they attended they would have been welcome.

“We know his point of view,” Ms. Maxwell said of Mr. Snyder. “He has his philosophy, and he gets out that message regularly.”

If the name “Redskins” was a hot-button word at the forum, the name Snyder elicited equal passion.

“I am at a loss to fathom, why not change the name if you’re Dan Snyder?” asked Dave Price, a retired teacher living in the Crystal City neighborhood of Arlington.

Jay Winter Nightwolf, the host of WPFW-FM radio’s program “The American Indian’s Truths,” said the problem is with Mr. Snyder. “Under no circumstances will he eat crow.”

“I think it’s about the almighty dollar,” he added.

Jody TallBear, a lawyer from Columbia, Md., said fans who wear the jerseys and hats are choosing to be ignorant.

“I think there’s enough out there,” she said. “It’s about personal responsibility. If people aren’t getting it at this point, they’re choosing not to get it.”

At least one fan said he changed his ways based on Thursday’s forum.

Grinning sheepishly, 20-year-old Andre Holland, an Anne Arundel Community College student, said he came to the museum on a field trip with his class and cluelessly wore his Redskins hat.

“When I walked in here, people were staring at me with my cap on,” he said. “I thought this was something good, but this Native American man came up to me and said, ‘I’m offended.’” Mr. Holland said just hours earlier he was tweeting about why it wasn’t fair to have to change the name, but after listening to the plight of so many American Indians, “it woke me up.”