When sports fans tuned into the NBA finals Tuesday night to see the San Antonio Spurs take on the Miami Heat, they got a look into another fierce standoff.
A California tribe paid for the anti-Redskins advertisement “Proud to Be” to run in seven major cities during halftime. The airing marked the first time the ad, which initially appeared online in time for the Super Bowl, had run before such a wide television audience.
The Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation, based about an hour northeast of San Francisco, would not say how much it spent for the coveted advertising slot, only that it was a “significant investment” that was deemed necessary to further what its leaders describe as an important discussion of racism.
“It’s just a time to get people thinking about putting an end to outward hatred and using sports as a tool to focus on racism,” Marshall McKay, chairman of the Yocha Dehe Wintun tribal council, said in a video explaining the tribe’s involvement in the name controversy.
The NFL and Washington team owner Dan Snyder have faced unprecedented pressure in the past year to change a name that has been described as derogatory. The criticism has increased since NBA Commissioner Adam Silver issued a lifetime ban against Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling for making disparaging comments about African Americans.
Among the many who have compared Silver to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is Richard Sherman, a cornerback for the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks. In an interview with Time, he said that he didn’t believe Goodell would act as decisively as Silver if a league owner were caught making racist comments, “because we have an NFL team called the Redskins.”
Goodell and team officials have consistently said they don’t believe the name is disparaging and have pointed to a decade-old opinion poll and recent letters to show that many Native Americans support the moniker. Snyder has described the name as a “badge of honor” and has vowed never to change it.
In the 60-second ad, which aired in Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, New York, Sacramento, San Francisco and Washington, Native Americans tick off names they are proud to be called. They include father and mother, survivor and patriot, unyielding and indomitable. In the end, a voice says, “Native Americans call themselves many things. The one thing they don’t” — and the screen shows the image of a Redskins helmet.
The original two-minute video was commissioned by the National Congress of American Indians, which, along with the Oneida Indian Nation, has been among the more vocal groups calling for a name change. Both groups were behind a recent letter that contained more than 75 signatures from Native American, religious and civil rights organizations and was sent to NFL players, asking them to stand up against a name that “does not honor people of color.”
“We applaud the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation for having the vision and commitment to ensure that the American public receives the message loud and clear that Native Americans strongly oppose the use of this disparaging slur,” NCAI Executive Director Jackie Pata and Oneida Indian Nation Representative Ray Halbritter said in a joint statement. “By airing this ad during the NBA Championships, this message for change will be brought into the living rooms of millions of American all across the country.”
The ad ran in Miami during the halftime of Game 2 of the finals Sunday. That game, according to Nielsen ratings, drew more than 15 million viewers.