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Racist team mascots condemned

By Askia Muhammad -Senior Editor- | Last updated: Dec 19, 2013 - 11:40:48 AM

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American Indians and their supporters gather outside the Metrodome to protest the Washington Redskins’ name, prior to an NFL football game between the team and the Minnesota Vikings, Nov. 7, in Minneapolis. Photo: A/P Wide World Photos
WASHINGTON ( - Both on and off the playing field, the plight of the Washington NFL team has gone from bad to worse.

The team has long been condemned by Native Americans for having a racist nickname and logo. The Oneida Indian Nation protests which have followed the team from city to city with radio ads this season was taken a step further Nov. 25, to the doorstep of the team’s home stadium by a coalition of Indian, Black, Latino, and Muslim protestors just before a nationally televised Monday night game, and since then, its win-loss record slipped to a dismal 3-10.

“This is an American issue,” Hakim Muhammad, of the Coalition of Prince George’s County Leaders and Organizations, said at the rally condemning the Washington “Redskins,” according to published reports. “When you have a name that is disparaging to any nation of people, it affects all of us. Period.”

Latina activist Zorayda Moreira-Smith, of CASA of Maryland, said it was “unacceptable” and “disgusting” that this was still an issue in 2013. She wondered how people would react if the team’s name reflected a slur against any other race. “That would not be okay,” she said. “That would cause a riot, chaos. Everyone would be upset. So, why is it okay when it’s called the Washington Redskins?

“The Washington football team’s current name is based and rooted on a racial slur that is considered an offensive term to insult—again, it is used to insult American Indians. It is unacceptable and rather disgusting that in 2013, after decades of opposition, this continues. This needs to stop and the name needs to change.

“What if their name was the Washington ‘Spics?’ What if their name was the Washington ‘Wetbacks?’ What if their name was the Washington ‘Coons?’ What if their name was the Washington ‘Crackers?’ That would not be okay. So that is why we stand here today in partnership, in arms, today, tomorrow, and as long as it takes to get the name changed,” Ms. Moreira-Smith concluded.

“Thanksgiving is a day to celebrate the ideals of mutual respect between Native Americans and their surrounding communities and to give thanks,” Ray Halbritter, of the Oneida Indian Nation said in a statement. “In that spirit we express our gratitude to everyone who has stood up in support of an important Civil Rights issue: changing the Washington NFL team’s name.

“The supporters of change have sent a powerful message to the NFL. They have said that no group deserves to be treated as targets of a racial slur. They have said Native Americans deserve to be treated as what we are … Americans,” Mr. Halbritter said.

The campaign has begun to erode the team’s support, even among ardent fans tailgating in the stadium parking lot before kickoff. “I think they should change the name. I think that there are a lot of people out there who are offended by the name. I know that some of the diehard (team) fans who don’t want it,” one team supporter told Feature Story News. “Tradition. It’s been around for a long time, but I do understand that people have an issue with it, for multiple reasons. One reason, in particular is that it is actually a very racist name,” another fan said outside the stadium.

Team owner Daniel Snyder is Jewish, and while he has been targeted by anti-Semitic cartoons condemning his unflinching refusal to even consider changing the name, Jewish groups have pointed out that he should understand the negative impact of his team’s name. In an op-ed published by CNN, Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld, of Ohev Shalom National Synagogue in Washington wrote that Jews have a religious obligation to speak out in opposition to hurtful terms such as the “R-word.”

“When you think about it like that, it’s not even a close call,” Rabbi Herzfeld told FSN. “There’s a stereotype that’s being promoted with a name. So, people will root for a different name. What are we talking about here? We’re talking about people can be hurt. We’re talking about derogatory language, derogatory speech.”

In that same spirit, Muslim groups in Southern California have taken offense at two high school team mascots.

In Thermal, a city 120 miles southeast of Los Angeles, before basketball games at Coachella Valley High School, a belly dancer jiggles on center court, and a black-haired, mustached mascot wearing a head scarf rallies the crowd. That team is called the “Arabs,” and while school district authorities have yielded to pressure from Arab American groups to give the mascot a makeover, they refuse to change the name.

“We’re still going to stick with the Arab,” school board president Lowell Kemper told the AP, after scores of residents defended the tradition dating back about 80 years. “It’s just a matter of whether we have a change in the caricature of the mascot.”

And in the Los Angeles suburb of Alhambra, the high school football team, known as the “Moors,” features a caricature of a scowling, dark-skinned man with two swords on its Facebook page. Yasmin Nouh, a spokeswoman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations in greater Los Angeles, said her group plans to speak with that school about making a change there.

Back in the nation’s capital, Brian Justice is a descendant of Charlie Justice, one of the Washington team’s all-time 70 greatest players in its 80-odd-year history. “Well I feel very strongly about this. This is my team; I have always lived (team) territory. I have a relative who played for the (team, his name is in) the (stadium’s) Ring of Fame, so I can’t just be mad at this team and go up and root for somebody else. And with the history of the (team) the way it is, I’m tired of rooting for the most racist team in the NFL,” Mr. Justice told FSN.