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Washington NFL team retires mascot

WINDOW ROCK

A longtime opponent of the Washington Redskins mascot is cautious about the announcement that it is being retired.

Amanda Blackhorse, who’s been fighting to have the NFL team’s mascot changed – considered by her to be a disparaging racial slur against Native Americans – said the news was a “monumental day.”

“Farewell to the Washington team’s racist r-word name and logo!” Blackhorse wrote in a statement on Monday morning, about the fight to eliminate the racist Native mascots and names in professional sports.

The team’s organization released a statement on Monday, saying, “(Team owner) Dan Snyder and Coach Rivera are working closely to develop a new name and design approach that will enhance the standing of our proud, tradition rich franchise and inspire our sponsors, fans and community for the next 100 years.”

Blackhorse, along with Marcus Briggs, Philip Grover, Jillian Pappan and Courtney Tsotigh, in 2006 sought the cancellation of six Washington Redskins trademark registrations.

In 2014, the U.S. Patent and Trademarks Office agreed with them and canceled the registrations under the Lahman Act. The act permits denial or cancellation of a trademark if it is disparaging or falsely suggests a connection with persons living or dead, institutions, beliefs or national symbols.

Washington’s owner, Pro-Football Inc., filed a complaint against them in 2014, according to a U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit filing, stating it violated the First Amendment.

The case against the team would ultimately be dropped in 2017, when the U.S. Supreme Court agreed with Pro-Football Inc., saying the trademarks, though disparaging, were protected under the U.S. Constitution.

The Navajo Times spoke with Blackhorse following the Monday announcement. She said she was not sure exactly sure what “retirement actually looks like.”

“We don’t know,” she said. “I think they just give us these short statements and they don’t think to clarify exactly what they’re doing, so I don’t really trust them at all.”

She also was concerned about a statement made by President Jonathan Nez on Monday morning when he suggested the team rename themselves “Code Talkers.”

“I don’t think renaming them to the Navajo Code Talkers is the best option,” Blackhorse said. “We went on a media campaign how we demanded and wrote a letter and demanded that they push for rebrand, a 100 percent rebrand without Native imagery, without any Native name whatsoever.”

Arizona State Sen. Arlando Teller, who said his late grandfather Edward Tah was a Navajo Code Talker, said Nez’s suggestion was “disrespectful.”

“I find that to be completely disrespectful to commodify the sacredness of the code talkers who went to war using our Navajo Diné Bizaad,” Teller said.

Nez reversed his Monday statement, saying, “Indigenous people should not be used as mascots.”

“My intent was to have team honor and recognize the contributions and sacrifices of all First Americans, all of our Indigenous brothers and sisters, including the Navajo Code Talkers and other code talkers from other tribal nations,” Nez said.

Blackhorse said there are other ways to honor Native people.

“It (Washington football team) shouldn’t be using them as the base of a franchise,” she said.

Monument Valley Mustangs coach Bryan Begay and Navajo Prep Eagles coach Rod Denetso both welcomed the name change.

“To many Native Americans locally and afar, and others, the act is a disrespectful gesture that perpetuates negative stereotypes of the nation’s first people,” Begay wrote.

“The mission should be to empower the Native American,” he said. “It is with all this sordid history in mind that we must consider other issues from our history and correct certain wrongs.”

Begay added history could not be changed, but change could come in the way “we look at it” and “the way it is taught our children.”

“It’s time to right this historical wrong,” he said.

Denetso said football was a great platform to teach young Native American men.

“It’s long overdue,” he said. “It’s about time. For me, as a Native American male, I look at the logo, it’s not what I am as a Native American. The logo, it has a larger nose, it has red skin, it has a feather, that’s not what we teach our kids at Navajo Prep.

Denetso added he is half African American.

“When we say ‘culture,’ it’s not just the Navajo culture, we’re talking about cultures from all over,” he said. “I think sometimes with race, we kind of put everything in a box.”

U.S. President Donald Trump chimed in with his own thoughts on social media last Monday.

“They name teams out of STRENGTH, not weakness, but now the Washington Redskins & Cleveland Indians, two fabled sports franchises, look like they are going to be changing their names in order to be politically correct,” he said on Twitter. “Indians, like Elizabeth Warren, must be very angry right now!”

During a Monday press conference, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said Trump “believes the Native American community would be very angry at this,” citing a 2004 Washington Post poll that showed 90 percent of Native people were not offended by the name.

The whole issue may be about money because FedEx, the team’s stadium naming-rights sponsor, stated on July 2 the company “communicated to the team in Washington our request that they change the team name.”

According to adweek.com, investors wrote letters to Nike, FedEx and Pepsi Co. to stop doing business with the team if they did not change their mascot.

About The Author

Donovan Quintero

"Dii, Diné bi Naaltsoos wolyéhíígíí, ninaaltsoos át'é. Nihi cheii dóó nihi másání ádaaní: Nihi Diné Bizaad bił ninhi't'eelyá áádóó t'áá háadida nihizaad nihił ch'aawóle'lágo. Nihi bee haz'áanii at'é, nihisin at'é, nihi hózhǫ́ǫ́jí at'é, nihi 'ach'ą́ą́h naagééh at'é. Dilkǫǫho saad bee yájíłti', k'ídahoneezláo saad bee yájíłti', ą́ą́ chánahgo saad bee yájíłti', diits'a'go saad bee yájíłti', nabik'íyájíłti' baa yájíłti', bich'į' yájíłti', hach'į' yándaałti', diné k'ehgo bik'izhdiitįįh. This is the belief I do my best to follow when I am writing Diné-related stories and photographing our events, games and news. Ahxéhee', shik'éí dóó shidine'é." - Donovan Quintero is an award-winning Diné journalist, who is based in Window Rock, Arizona. He can be contacted at dq@navajotimes.com.

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