The Minnesota Vikings may be playing the Washington Redskins inside U.S. Bank Stadium on Thursday, but there also could be significant action outside the stadium at the Commons park.
American Indian groups expect thousands to gather there to protest what they consider to be the visiting team’s offensive nickname. It won’t be the first time; protesters marched on TCF Bank Stadium in 2014 when the Vikings hosted the Redskins there.
David Glass, one of the organizers of the protest along with Henry Boucha, spoke about their plans Friday at the monthly meeting of the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority (MSFA). Both Vikings and MSFA officials say the protesters have been working with them to make sure the event goes smoothly.
Glass referred to the Washington team’s name as “the R word,” and described the “dark history” behind it that involved scalping of the elderly, babies, women and children, then selling the scalps in an effort to move the tribes farther west.
Tribes across the U.S. have worked for years to retire offensive nicknames and chants. Glass and Boucha mentioned successes such as phasing out the Cleveland Indians’ cartoonish logo of “Chief Wahoo,” and curbing the tomahawk chop gesture used by Atlanta Braves fans during the recent playoffs. St. Louis Cardinals relief pitcher Ryan Helsley, a member of the Cherokee Nation, had called it “disappointing, disrespectful.”
But Washington team owner Dan Snyder has shown no interest in changing his team’s nickname, which strikes many as especially offensive. He has repeatedly said the nickname connotes honor and respect for the tribes, a position that leaves the NFL in a tough spot.
Vikings Executive Vice President Lester Bagley said the hometown franchise has had a longstanding and respectful relationship with the tribes, and that the Vikings have been working with protest organizers to ensure the event runs smoothly.
The protest will take place outside, Glass said. “We’ll let the Vikings take care of business” inside, he said.
Events will begin at noon Thursday on Portland Avenue near the stadium with youth Olympics, educational games and an art tent. The March from Peavey Park at Franklin and Park avenues to the Commons will begin at 4 p.m., and the rally outside the stadium is expected to start at 5 p.m.
Glass said events are planned until 9 p.m. Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan and activist Winona LaDuke are expected to speak.
The protest is sponsored by the state’s federally recognized tribes, the National Coalition Against Racism in Sports and Media, the National Congress of American Indians, the NDN Collective and Wakemup Productions.
“We’ll see you on the 24th,” MSFA Chairman Michael Vekich told Glass and Boucha.
In other action Thursday, the MSFA reported a new reimbursement of $1.1 million to defray costs for hosting the NCAA Final Four at U.S. Bank Stadium in early April. The funds were raised by the local organizing committee but went unspent.
That brings the cost to the public of hosting the Final Four down to about $3.5 million, not including $5 million for the blackout curtains that will be used for future events. “We’re very pleased,” Vekich said of the reimbursement.
Initial projections put the public cost at almost $7 million. Food, beverage and merchandise sales of almost $2 million helped bring down the cost, according to the MSFA report Friday.