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Washington’s professional football team showed up at the Metrodome on Monday night, greeted by a torrent of protest over its nickname, the Redskins, that included a march by 700 demonstrators and demands to scrap the name by Gov. Mark Dayton and Minneapolis Mayor-elect Betsy Hodges.
“I believe the name should be changed,” Dayton said at a news conference earlier in the day, calling the team’s name “racist” and “offensive.”
“It’s antiquated and offensive in our present context.”
Protesters, the majority of them Indians, rallied a few hours later outside the national office of the American Indian Movement on E. Franklin Avenue, where they heard Hodges, who was elected mayor on Tuesday, declare, “I am proud to stand with you today.” She said the use of the name “is not acceptable.” Then they marched about 15 blocks to the Dome.
U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum, a Democrat from the Fourth District, addressed the protesters, as did former Gov. Jesse Ventura, City Council Members Nathaniel Khaliq of St. Paul and Cam Gordon of Minneapolis — evidence that political opposition to the nickname has swelled in Minnesota.
Six City Council members in Minneapolis, including Hodges, and all seven council members in St. Paul signed letters sent to the National Football League and Washington’s owners, demanding a name change. And 19 members of the Minnesota House of Representative also signed a statement, which was drafted by state Rep. Karen Clark and read at the Dome rally, criticizing the nickname.
“More than ever, it is important that our Minnesota Native American Indian communities know that all of their elected officials stand with them in rejecting appeals to hate and bigotry,” the legislators’ statement said.
Carrying signs that read, “We Are Not Mascots” and “Redskin: A Dehumanizing Racial Slur,” protesters marched west on Franklin Av, then north on Chicago, chanting, “Hey, hey, ho, ho. little red Sambo has got to go,” a reference to the old children’s story, “Little Black Sambo,” now widely denounced as racist.
Among the marchers were Billy Mills of Sacramento, a Sioux Indian who won the 10,000-meter gold medal in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics; Joey Browner, a former Minnesota Viking and Pro Bowl player; Hennepin County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin, and Minneapolis folk singer Larry Long, who sang a new song he wrote, “Redskins! I don’t see no native people on your team.”
Holding a bullhorn, Clyde Bellecourt, who at 78 seemed to have barely lost a step, led the marchers, chanting slogans and overseeing logistics. A founder of AIM, he told reporters on Wednesday, “The R-word is no different from the N-word.”
“We want the R-word completely erased from the memory of the NFL,” he said.
Browner, who is of Polynesian, Cherokee, Seminole and Blackfeet Indian heritage, said that “Redskins” was a pejorative term of the American frontier when his ancestors were viewed as animals.
Bellecourt introduced McCollum as a “warrior woman.” She told the crowd, “Minnesota is not a state where hateful speech is respected.”
Thursday’s demonstration recalled protests organized in Minneapolis in 1991, when the Minnesota Twins played the Atlanta Braves in the World Series, which drew several hundred protesters, and the 1992 Super Bowl at the Metrodome that turned out 3,000 demonstrators.
Those protests, like Thursday’s, were backed by the National Coalition on Racism in Sports and Media. It was previously headed by the late Vernon Bellecourt, Clyde’s brother and an AIM leader.
AIM attorney Larry Leventhal filed a petition on Wednesday with Jim Schowalter, the state management and budget commissioner, asking him to seek authority from the state Supreme Court to block the use of the Redskins logo and name in the new Viking stadium when he sells construction bonds for the project. Officials in Schowalter’s office said they would study the issue.
Several people attending Thursday’s game said in interviews they saw nothing wrong with the nickname. “It’s not a slur,” said Robert Clute of Boone Island, Iowa, who was wearing a Redskins jersey. “It’s an emblem. It’s no big deal.”
“Keep the name,” said David Hamiel of St. Paul. “I don’t think this has anything to do with racism.”
However, Ryan Schneider, an Ojibwe from Shakopee who participated in the march, said: “The name is indefensible. It makes Native American kids ashamed of who they are.”