Why did a group of Virginia legislators form a ‘Redskins Pride’ caucus this week? Let’s let Virginia state Sen. Chap Petersen (D-Fairfax City) — one of the few elected Democrats to have strongly backed the team name in recent weeks — explain it himself.
“You know what, honestly, when I ran for the State Senate, this was about the last issue I thought would end up becoming political,” Petersen told Grant Paulsen and Danny Rouhier on 106.7 The Fan on Tuesday afternoon. “I was literally sitting at a high school graduation when somebody sent me a text about that patent decision. And I was just like ‘Enough’s enough. This is going crazy.’ I felt like I was living in George Orwell land. I’m a Democrat — I sent a text to a Republican friend who was a season-ticket holder like myself — and I said listen, I’m gonna call you tonight.
“And I gave him a call, I said there’s just so much misinformation. I didn’t use the word misinformation, but I said there’s so much misinformation being put out there, I feel like someone needs to stand up for the Redskins and just stand up for their fans. And so I made a couple calls, tried to rally some people. We had to be in session on Monday. I got [ Del. Jackson Miller (R-Manassas)] and [Del. David Ramadan (R-Loudoun)] to join me. I also called [Sen. L. Louise Lucas (D-Portsmouth)], whose nephew is DeAngelo Hall. She was able to make it up. So put together kind of a grab bag of folks, and we had a press conference on Monday.”
And here are some photos from said press conference. What is the group’s goal?
“My number one goal is just to be a voice for Redskins fans,” Petersen said. “I grew up in this community, and I grew up as a huge Redskins fan. I’ve been a season-ticket holder since 1999. I believe in the team, I believe in what it represents in our community. I look at the Redskins logo as a symbol of unity in our community. I will tell you, I have my tickets in section 451….It’s a great section. We’ve got a great cross-section of people from Maryland, the District, Virginia, all races, folks from all over. And I believe in the unity that the team represents. I’ll put that unity up and that diversity up against any of these so-called groups that are attacking us for being not diverse or racist or whatever. I mean, give me a break. And the bottom line is we’re just here to support the fans and give the fans a voice, because I felt like they didn’t have a voice.”
Of course, Democrats from across the country have come out against the team’s name, from 50 U.S. Senators to several Congressional members to virtually every District politician plus several from adjoining regions, along with many left-leaning media voices. Petersen, at least politically, is swimming upstream.
“I called a lot of people that are Redskins fans and season ticket holders that were Democrats, that were like ‘Hey man, ride on General Custer,’ ” Petersen joked. “They’re kind of like ‘Hey, I agree with you, I think you’re correct, I’m glad you’re doing this, but I can’t be there.’
“And I think a lot of people, when there’s an issue like this and they feel like ‘Oh my gosh, somebody raised the race card or played the race card, I’m gonna head for the exits,’ ” Petersen continued. “And I guess I did think about it. I felt like it was important for me as Democrat. I’m a pro-free-speech guy. And I understand that some people might not like the team. Let’s face it, it’s not like we’ve been very good the last year.
“So people don’t want to go to games, don’t go to games,” Petersen said. “You don’t want to buy the jersey, don’t buy the jersey. I will note that the Robert Griffin jersey was the most popular NFL jersey in the 2012-2013 season. So obviously there are some of us that like it. My position is I’m a free markets guy, and a free speech guy, and let’s get it out there. Again, if people don’t want to be publicly associated with the team, they have that choice. Me, I’ve been a Redskins fan, and I don’t find it inconsistent with being a Democrat. In fact, in a lot of ways, I feel like being a Democrat, I believe in representing people. And in my community, the Redskins are my people.”
Petersen was also asked what he would say to Native Americans who oppose the team’s name.
“All I can tell you is since I did my press conference yesterday I have been flooded with e-mails from people saying ‘I’m American Indian,’ or ‘I’m Native American, and I support you 100 percent.’ I’ll tell you, I got an e-mail from a woman that had worked as my legal assistant 15 years ago. We haven’t talked in years. I’m just gonna read a bit of it.
Hey Chap, I happened to catch your bit on the news last night regarding the Redskins name. I could not agree with you more. You may recall I have a good bit of native blood in me. It infuriates me to see all these ‘white people’ telling me that I should be offended by the name. It’s quite the opposite. Even before I moved to this area I was a Redskins fan because of their name. It’s a proud heritage. Not one member of my family is offended, either. I would love to discuss this further with you over a drink sometime if you want — that’ s interesting. The bottom line is that 90 percent of true Native Americans are not offended in the least….
“And listen, if somebody is offended I’m not going to deny that that’s a sincere feeling,” Petersen said. “But you can’t just take that and scrub out the feelings of 100,000 other people.”
Would he take the well-publicized Amanda Blackhorse challenge and call the activist a Redskin to her face?
“Again, if somebody’s wearing a Redskins jersey I might call ‘em a Redskin,” Petersen said. “Otherwise I don’t go around calling people anything. I don’t walk up to someone and say ‘Hey you’re black, hey you’re white,’ either. I try to just deal with people as they are. And again, we live in a diverse community. In my case, my wife’s actually Korean-American, so my kids are half-Asian, and so what? That’s the community we live in in Fairfax. But we’re Redskins fans. And again, I’m just looking at the team’s depiction, which is a positive one. We’re trying to be positive.”
Finally, Petersen was asked to detail some of the misinformation he thinks has spoiled the debate.
“I think people inevitably say ‘Well, George Preston Marshall was a racist, and the Redskins are therefore racist,’ ” Petersen said. “Again, the Redskins was a name used back in ’32. There really was not the association with American Indians. That didn’t come until the early ’70s. I mean, the name came from the American Indians, but the chief logo on the side of the helmet and all of that, you look at their uniforms from the ’50s and ’60s, they were actually pretty bland. And they really didn’t seem to invest a lot of effort in the trademark until the early ’70s. And that’s when I think the team under George Allen really made an effort to embrace it, and they did it out of a sense of pride.
“And so when people say ‘Well, this is done to disparage,’ I have a huge issue with that,” Petersen said. “Again, there’s all sorts of words that were used back in the 18th and 19th centuries that may sound archaic today. And listen, no one’s going to start a sports franchise today and name it after a Native American group. I mean, I get that. But that doesn’t mean you go back and suddenly say that all these other terms are inherently evil. The bottom line is people at the time were naming franchises, naming teams, and these are team names that stood the test of time….
“The Redskins stood the test of time because people admired the spirit that it represented. And so again, I can’t make everybody happy. I’m not trying to. All I’m trying to do is give a voice for Redskins fans to say I’m proud of the heritage, and that’s where I’m coming from.”