A Rare Occurrence
Last month, The Washington Post published yet another article on the Washington Redskins name change mess, but this one struck a very unusual and unexpected nerve. The article focused on a response to the issue from Gary Clark, a former Washington wide receiver featured in an alumni special that aired in the Washington area the night before. One segment of the show focused on the name issue, and according to The Post, none of the players were “striking a conciliatory tone.”
Here’s the core of Gary’s response as printed:
“If it really bothered Native Americans, do you not think they would not be like blacks, gays, Hispanics, and march on Washington? Of course they would. Of course they would. You say the word ‘Redskins,’ most people think of the Washington Redskins football team. You’re talking about 90 percent of the population does. The Washington Redskins is the only team in the National Football League whose name actually has meaning to it. And [that’s] why we played so hard to represent that brand.”
Before I step to the rest of it, I’m going to speak briefly about this. If every injustice done to everyone in America requires a “march on Washington”, then we’re in trouble. First of all, marches happen all the time right now, and they no longer hold the weight they once did (sorry marchers, but that’s just reality). We need CHANGE, not simply marches, and that requires creating solutions and acting, not just talking in a circle or going Monty Python and marching up and down the square.
Second, getting giant groups of people to Washington, that’s not exactly an easy logistical task even for communities not living in poverty like much of the Native American population unfortunately does. Although the team name issue can serve to help push Native American issues into the limelight where they belong until they are FIXED, we often reserve marches on Washington only for the biggest problems facing humanity – and even offended Native Americans likely won’t put some football team’s racist logo on top of that pile.
From The Horse’s Mouth
So the next piece to Clark’s response went as follows:
“I know about equal rights,. I’m all about equal rights. So quite honestly, I wanted to go hear it from the horse’s mouth. So I went directly to the Native American Indians and I directly asked them, ‘the word Redskin, is it offensive to you, am I being disrespectful of you in in any way?’ And they were like no. Not at all. I said ‘What does the word mean to you?’ And it’s the same thing it meant to me….
They said it means character, a resilient people, a respected people who are a brotherhood of people, who mostly were a warrior [people]. We will not back down from any cause that we believe in. And think about it. That’s what it means. They don’t back away from anything that comes at them, no matter what. The Minnesota Vikings — Vikings are no longer here. Native American Indians are still here. They did not go away. They did not back down from anybody. And that’s to me what the word meant.
So when people say it’s the N-word, it’s not. It’s not even close. You haven’t heard from nobody, one person, get upset by calling somebody a Redskin. Who?”
Well Gary, I don’t mean to rain on your little Ra-Ra-Racist Mascot Happy Parade here, but nobody would have even asked you about the issue in the first place if no one was offended. I’ll speak to the core issue in a moment, but first I must admit that this response surprised the hell out of me. There are 5 million plus American Indians in our country. How many do you think Gary Clark actually talked to, or “went to the horse’s mouth” so to speak? Making the assumption that, by talking to a few of the population under discussion, you’ve somehow discovered an irrefutable truth, is a ridiculous notion. I’d be pissed if someone went to a KKK meeting, talked to 20 white people, and then felt compelled to take their words as the words of all white people in America. I guarantee you that Gary Clark would feel the same if someone pulled a similar tactic related to African Americans. Not cool. At all.
Back to the core issue, it sounds to me like Gary is trying to wish racism away by telling us all unequivocally what the word “redskin” stands for. That’s akin to me, as a white guy, trying to tell Gary that the N-word is a respectful word he should feel honored to be called. Do some Native Americans feel honored by the word? It sounds to me, from following this issue for months, that the answer is yes. Do all Native Americans feel that way? Hell no. That is blatantly obvious. The current lawsuit in play has the support of the National Congress of American Indians, an inter-tribal organization representing more than 250 groups, and over 1.2 million people. Does that mean that those 1.2 million all feel the same way? Not likely, but it’s still a hearty stamp of disapproval nonetheless.
And here’s the big thing – American Indians have a longer history in this country than any of us. There are countless ways we can honor their heritage, and the trials and tribulations they endured here in America. If the absolute best we can come up with is using a term that simply refers to the color of their skin (see Definition of Racism), that reflects extremely poorly on us as a nation. There are so many opportunities for helping here, instead of exacerbating the situation, but they all require Dan Snyder to step up and quit clinging to a TEAM NAME like it’s his woobie.
To Gary and the other former Washington players who keep speaking out in the worst way possible, in defense of a mascot instead of a in defense in of a people, please stop. Now. If you take that effort and apply it to an actual solution instead of the status quo, then you can make a long-lasting difference instead of a little short-term noise. There is precedent with other mascots, like the Florida State Seminoles, where although not perfect, the direct involvement of an actual tribe makes a world of difference. Clumping an entire country of Native Americans into the term “redskin” will never cut it, but actually involving, helping and honoring a distinct tribe and a nationwide tribal organization could have a lasting and meaningful impact. It’s time to look at intelligent solutions, not cling to past indiscretions.
Dan and Gary, please, hand over the woobie…
NOTE: I’ll be working on potential solutions to the Washington mascot issue to this over at WalkAMileProject.com, starting in this Fall. Head over there to stay in touch with us and you can bring your ideas to the table as well.
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