It was the students, not the administration, at Green Acres School in North Bethesda, Maryland, who prompted the decision to ban the Washington NFL team name and logo from its halls, according to reports.
In a letter, head of the school Neal Brown said it was during their studies of Natives that the students raised the issue of the controversial team name and logo.
“The local football team has been around a long time and has experienced great successes; loyalty to this beloved team and passion for the game of football are understandably strong among many of our students, families, and staff members,” read the letter. “Clearly, there is nothing wrong with rooting for one’s team.”
But Brown goes on to say such imagery on campus is at “odds” with the school’s principles and mission. “At the same time, the term ‘Redskin’ is a racial slur. Its use, whether intentional or not, can be deeply insulting and offensive. It is a term that demeans a group of people. Similarly, the team’s logo also can reasonably be viewed as racially demeaning. At best, the image is an ethnic stereotype that promotes cultural misunderstanding; at worst, it is intensely derogatory.
“As such, having students or staff members on campus wearing clothing with this name and/or this team logo feels profoundly at odds with our community’s mission and values,” he wrote.
Brown continued: “The people who disagree with it still see why it’s part of our school’s mission and philosophy,” Brown said. “I’m a fan, many people are huge fans of our team and we don’t want those kids or adults to feel like they can’t continue to do that. We are just trying to live up to our community’s values and do the right thing at our small school.”
In May 2016, The Washington Post published a poll that claimed nine in 10 Natives do not take issue with the name and logo of the Washington team. But the poll was quickly rejected by Natives saying it was inauthentic because it was not known whether the respondents were legitimately Native or simply claimed to have a Native ancestor.
Tara Houska, Ojibwe, a contributing columnist with Indian Country Media Network, and co-founder of Not Your Mascots, a group advocating for the abolishment of Indian mascots, said “family lore” is no excuse for racism.
“In the years I’ve lived in Washington, D.C., it’s almost a guarantee to hear, ‘well, I’m part Cherokee on my mother’s side,’ in a conversation as reasoning for supporting a racial caricature and slur,” she said. “Vague family lore is rampant out here, as is complete ignorance of actual Native people. Throwing a ‘poll’ based on self-identification run by a newspaper that employs zero Natives in my face doesn’t change my being offended or the facts — racial stereotypes harm our children. Period.”
The Washington team is slated to play the Dallas Cowboys on Thanksgiving Day. Native groups and allies plan to protest the game, citing the “blatant racism” embedded in the match on a day that “entirely dismisses genocide with this happy imagery of pilgrims and Indians like it never happened,” Houska said.
The Washington NFL team did not respond to ICMN’s request for comment.
Culture Editor Simon Moya-Smith contributed to this report.