Rich Lowry, editor of the conservative National Review, just doesn’t get the Washington NFL Redskins name-change controversy. He doesn’t understand the research that shows the name is psychologically harmful to Indian and non-Indian children. He doesn’t hear the high school students who have forced their schools to change equally offensive monikers. In fact, Lowry thinks this situation, which Native Americans have been battling for decades, boils down to just another partisan Republican versus Democrat issue.
“Liberals Fabricate Outrage Over ‘Redskins’,” is the headline of Lowry’s most recent article for his paper, in which he writes, “The epicenter of the anti-Redskins resistance is editors of liberal websites and magazines such as Slate and Mother Jones who have decided to banish the word from their football coverage, such as it is.” Still more from him on Meet the Press last weekend: “I think if you change it, you ruin the parallelism of the Cowboys/Redskin rivalry, and you can’t lose that.”
The fact is, Lowry is way wrong. Native Americans of all political stripes have been taking this issue on for decades before President Barack Obama lent his support to changing the name in a recent Associated Press interview. Conservative members of Congress, including House leadership team member Tom Cole (R-Oklahoma), have pressed the NFL to get rid of the racist name. Even tea party member and Cherokee Nation citizen Markwayne Mullin (R-Oklahoma) has reportedly told his pals that he has experienced culture shock in seeing the name and mascot plastered everywhere in Washington, D.C. since being elected to Congress last fall.
“Native Americans throughout the country consider the term ‘redskin’ a racial, derogatory slur akin to the ‘N-word' among African Americans or the ‘W-word' among Latinos,” Cole and nine other lawmakers wrote in a letter earlier this year to team owner Daniel Snyder. “Such offensive epithets would no doubt draw widespread disapproval among the NFL's fan base. Yet the national coverage of Washington's NFL football team profits from a term that is equally disparaging to Native Americans.”
Is Lowry the only one who is tone deaf on this situation? Far from it. Many members of what’s traditionally considered the “liberal media” can’t seem to wrap their heads around the outrage, either. Erin Burnett, host of a CNN weeknight show, asked on her program October 7 why people are just starting to pay attention to this issue 80 years after the team was established. One of her guests had to correct her, noting that some American Indians have been expressing concern since the 1950s. It’s just now that the mainstream media is paying attention in such a major way.
Some liberals are actually the staunchest advocates of the name. Lanny Davis, former lawyer for President Bill Clinton and a long-time Democratic advocate, has been brought on by Snyder as a crisis manager in this situation. Since the president spoke out, Davis has been touting throughout the press a 2004 study that apparently said a majority of Native Americans like the name, while ignoring more recent research that shows the opposite.
Even Obama is not perfect on these issues. His administration offended many Indians back in May 2011 on a separate word issue when it named its mission to kill Osama bin Laden after the Indian hero Geronimo. “Our tribe and most Native Americans would hope that you would issue a formal apology to the Geronimo family members, the Fort Sill Apache Tribe, and to all Native Americans for this action,” Fort Sill Apache Tribal Chairman Jeff Houser wrote to the president at the time. “Right now Native American children all over this country are facing the reality of having one of their most revered figures being connected to a terrorist and a murderer of thousands of innocent Americans.”
Part of the reason for the increased attention to the Redskins debacle is because the Oneida Indian Nation is working overtime at forcing a conversation here. They held a well-covered name-change symposium on the issue in D.C. October 7, and they have been buying radio ads around the country where the Redskins play this season in order to help the public better understand the problem.
The NFL, while it didn’t send anyone to attend the symposium, is taking note of the growing criticism, with a representative scheduled to meet tribal leaders in New York sometime this fall.
Meanwhile, Ray Halbritter, Oneida Indian Nation representative and CEO of Nation Enterprises, parent company of Indian Country Today Media Network, is taking on the silliness raised by both liberals and conservatives.
“They are dehumanizing us to a point of trivializing us,” Halbritter said at the symposium. “But this is about real harm, real effect, especially to our children. We must help them understand.”
Lowry, for one, might be surprised to learn that the Oneida Indian Nation donates to both Democratic and Republican politicians.