“The people who are against this have come from a generation that is against everything. ”
Michelle Anderson, 50, Virginia Beach, Blackfoot
Growing up, Michelle Anderson’s aunts and grandparents lovingly called her “Pocahontas.” Her classmates, not so lovingly, had other names for her: “Injun Joe,” “Tonto,” “Kemosahbee.”
“I had really long hair,” she said. “I’m dark complexioned. The first thing that people say to me is, ‘Are you Native American?’ ”
But even as someone who has spent her life dealing with stereotypes, Anderson said there is one word she has not been called and would not take offense if she were — “Redskin.”
“I think it’s not insulting at all,” said Anderson, who is not enrolled in a tribe but whose father was a Blackfoot. “I feel it’s something that has become synonymous with fair play and good healthy competitive sports. It’s part of the American way.”
Before the former teacher had twins, she was a self-described “ ‘Monday Night Football’ girl.” She grew up in Delaware rooting for the Philadelphia Eagles and the Washington Redskins. Now a 50-year-old mother of five living in Virginia Beach, Anderson said she is faintly aware that Robert Griffin III is no longer with the team.
And while she once screamed at the TV during games, her yells are now aimed at the news when talk of the name debate surfaces. She considers the issue absurd and pushed by activists.
“I truly believe that it’s a generational thing where someone decided they were going to be offended today,” Anderson said. “The people who are against this have come from a generation that is against everything. I think they are the people that say, ‘Let’s pick on this today.’ ”
“Every argument they use is emotionally charged, and emotion doesn’t win a debate.”
Michael Owens, 19, Stillwater, Okla., Cherokee
A debater for his college team and an independent league, Michael Owens is used to taking an ethical issue, choosing a side and defending his stance. The controversial topic of the Washington Redskins name has never come before him during a competition, but if it did, he said he would argue that the term is not offensive — and he would win.
“I’d destroy them,” the 19-year-old said of opponents to the name. “Every argument they use is emotionally charged, and emotion doesn’t win a debate.”
Owens, a student at Oklahoma State University, is majoring in philosophy and biology with a minor in Greek. He is also an enrolled Cherokee and said neither he nor his friends see the name as derogatory.
“It’s a sports team,” Owens said. “It shouldn’t be held to that type of scrutiny.”
For him, the matter also comes down to intent: “To see something as offensive when somebody means nothing offensive about it is totally insane. I don’t see blind men getting offended over Netflix’s current ‘Daredevil’ adaptation.”
Owens said his generation does not face the same level of oppression and discrimination that once existed against Native Americans, and, despite arguments otherwise, changing a name will not right past wrongs.
“The past is the past,” he said. He is far more worried about Native Americans losing their culture.
“That is something that needs to be corrected,” he said. “I don’t care about sports teams.”
“Let’s start taking care of our people and quit worrying about names like Washington Redskins.”
Rusty Whitworth, 58, Flathead Indian Reservation, Mont., Confederated Salish and Kootenai
On the Flathead Indian Reservation where Rusty Whitworth lives, a high school’s sports teams once used the nickname “The Savages.” Now, they are the “Savage Heat.” Whitworth did not agree with that change — and he does not think Washington’s football team should have to give up its long-standing moniker.
“Ah, heck, just let them keep it,” the 58-year-old said of the Redskins. “It ain’t hurting nobody.”
Whitworth’s wife, Anita Whitworth, disagrees. The 62-year-old mother of five said she does not want the couple’s youngest child, a dark-skinned 13-year-old, to experience the same racism she did growing up. She was called “Redskin” as a slur, she said.
At their home, the issue often leads to disagreements. Where the couple find common ground is on the many needs in the Native American community that have been neglected. Rusty Whitworth, who has a GED and labors on a ranch despite back problems, said on the reservation there are few employers, poverty is ever present and children are going hungry. Rampant substance abuse, he said, is tearing apart families.
“We’re not taking care of our people, and I think that’s where the money should go,” he said of the campaign against Washington’s team. “Let’s start taking care of our people and quit worrying about names like Washington Redskins.”
Where he does find offense, he said, is with fans who don feathered headdresses and war paint.
“We don’t even like our people to do that,” said Whitworth, who is an enrolled member of the Salish, Kootenai and Pend d’Oreilles tribes. “The way we live is sacred. It shouldn’t be made fun of.”
“We call other natives ‘skins,’ too,” as in “Look at that ‘skin.’”
Gabriel Nez, 29, Albuquerque, N.M., Navajo
Go ahead and call Gabriel Nez a “Redskin.”
“I really don’t mind,” the 29-year-old said. “I like it.”
Nez, who is an enrolled member of the Navajo tribe, grew up on a reservation and is studying criminal justice at Brookline College with hopes of becoming a probation officer. He said he does not see — despite the insistence of critics — the name of Washington’s football team as a racial slur.
“We call other natives ‘skins,’ too,” Nez said, as in “Look at that ‘skin.’ ”
A shorthand of the word Redskin, he said it is usually said “just messing around” and not intended to insult someone.
Would he call his friend that?
“I usually call my friend worse,” he said jokingly.
Nez said that Native Americans often use past oppressions as modern-day crutches but that there are plenty of opportunities if they seek them out. When he’s not in school, he works at Whataburger.
“Everybody has a chance to do something,” he said. “It’s just a matter of going out there and doing it.”
“At least they’re acknowledging us. We’re not even in the history books.”
Gracie Olesen, 59, Turlock, Calif., Cherokee
When three Navajo code talkers appeared on Gracie Olesen’s television during a November 2013 Washington Redskins game wearing the team’s gear, it validated what she already believed: The groups pushing for the name change were wrong about the term offending Native Americans.
“If everybody is feeling that way,” Olesen asked, “then why did our elders go out in Redskins jackets?”
Olesen, who does administrative work for a California hospice company and is working toward a business degree, is not enrolled in a tribe, but her mother, a Cherokee, was born at a hospital on a reservation. Growing up, Olesen said she was taught little about Native Americans in school and that the football team is making sure Indians are not forgotten.
“At least they’re acknowledging us,” she said. “We’re not even in the history books.”
The time and resources spent fighting the name, Olesen said, would be better spent on more pressing issues for Native Americans, such as substance abuse, an issue she struggled with in her younger years.
So if someone called her a “Redskin,” she would not mind?
“No,” she said. “I’d just call them a white man.”
“That’s about as bad as the n-word for African Americans.”
Brian Gladden, 55, Washington, D.C., Shawnee
Brian Gladden sees burgundy and gold everywhere he goes in the nation’s capital. On bumpers. On hats. On the backs of his fellow Washingtonians.
He grew up in the District, and, although he is not much of a football fan, his father followed the Redskins. Gladden has never thought much about the name on the team’s gear. It has always just been a part of the landscape. But when pressed on his opinion of the term, he was torn.
“I’m mixed about the name situation,” Gladden, 55, said. “For all these years, many people, they’ve grown accustomed to it.”
At the same time, he said, the groups calling on the team to change the name are justified. “The more you think about it, yes, it is offensive,” Gladden said. “That’s about as bad as the n-word for African Americans. You have to have the mindset to say, ‘I don’t want to go there anymore.’ ”
The one thing he is sure about: He likes the team’s warrior mascot.
“I can acknowledge the artwork of the Native American Indian,” he said. “Even going down to the National Portrait Gallery, they have a whole section for Native Americans, and that’s good to see. I’m not going to take offense to that.”
Gladden, who has a bachelor’s degree in health information technology, has a great-great-grandmother who was Shawnee. But he said when relatives tried to research their roots more thoroughly, they found much of their history has been lost, an all-too-common occurrence for many tribes.
“Many of our histories have been demolished,” Gladden said. “It’s a travesty. They’re going adrift.”
“We should be proud to have a team named after us.”
Jean Manfred, 72, Hampton, Va., Pamunkey
In Jean Manfred’s Virginia home, the Redskins divide is real. But the split feelings are over the football team’s skills, not its name. Manfred and her husband, a retired Air Force officer from Pennsylvania, are Pittsburgh Steelers fans. Her brother, who lives with them, is a die-hard Washington fan.
“I think the hoo-ha about it is crazy,” Manfred said of the name controversy. “To me, it’s kind of like an honor. I think we should be proud to have a team named after us.”
Manfred, 73, is not enrolled in a tribe, but her great-grandmother was full-blooded Pamunkey.
For the most part, Manfred said she does not waste time debating the merits of the team’s name, but she has discussed it with her daughter, whom she said agrees that it should not be an issue.
“I don’t have a problem with that word,” Manfred said. “I don’t relate it to the color of your skin. We call black people ‘black people.’ We call European people ‘white people.’ ”
Manfred said she is aware that other Native Americans are offended by the term and have been fighting hard to force the team to drop it.
“Everybody is different,” she said. “If it bothers them, I don’t have a problem with that. But I think it’s crazy.”
“I take pride in it. Most people I see griping about it are not Native Americans.”
James Scott, 40, Ochelata, Okla., Cherokee and Delaware tribes
James Scott played football in college and is such a die-hard fan of the sport that he named his sons Peyton and Manning.
Having a team in the NFL named Redskins is an honor, he said.
“If you want to look at it and find a reason for it to be offensive, then you can,” said Scott, who is an enrolled member of the Cherokee and Delaware tribes. “I’ve talked about this with family and friends, and it doesn’t bother me none. I am proud that someone is recognizing Native Americans.”
And so are others, maintained Scott, who owns a commercial roofing business. He said he does not have to go to a Washington football game to see the word “Redskins.” He can just go to a powwow, where lots of tribal members wear gear with Native American imagery.
“They’ll wear a Kansas [City] Chiefs hat or a Redskins shirt,” he said. “They’re wearing it because it’s got the face of an Indian.”
At his home, Scott keeps memorabilia with the team’s name on it. And whenever he hears of local high schools seeking to swap out the name for something more politically correct, he said he is filled with disappointment.
“To me, a ‘red man’ is all tribes and all Native Americans,” he said. “I take pride in it. Most people I see griping about it are not Native Americans."
“It’s antiquated as much as it’s offensive.”
Clark Lee Walker, 52. Austin, Tex., Comanche
Clark Lee Walker can tell you when the first photograph of a Comanche was snapped and where the largest Indian raid in Texas took place, reciting the dates and details with unhalting enthusiasm.
The 52-year-old who grew up in Guthrie, Okla., and now lives in Austin, has studied American Indian culture out of professional curiosity and personal interest: He is a screenwriter who pens westerns and a descendant of the famed chief Quanah Parker. Parker, who served as one of the last Comanche leaders , was the son of a British
American woman who was kidnapped and assimilated into the tribe as a child, and he later wielded influence among Native American and white society.
But if Walker’s ancestor served as a bridge between two worlds, Walker said the name of Washington’s football team is a reminder of a once-violent divide.
“It’s antiquated as much as it’s offensive,” he said. “The word itself grew up in the context of this fascination, repulsion with American Indian culture. It’s trying to appropriate the exotic without coming to terms with what white culture’s interaction with Native American culture has been. It’s trying to have it both ways: ‘Oh, we love the Indians. Everyone should have one for a pet.’ ”
But he is not surprised that the vast majority of Native Americans are not offended by the term.
“I think it’s the least of their problems,” Walker said. “They are more interested in immediate issues: sovereignty, poverty, jobs.”
As for fans dressing up as Indians, he said, it is ridiculous and historically inaccurate: “There was never a tribe that wore feathered headdresses within 500 miles of Washington, D.C., except when they came to visit the president.”
“I think as long as the seats are being filled, the bills are being paid, that it won’t be changed.”
Charles Moore, 73, Duluth, Minn., Oneida
If Charles Moore could compel the leaders of the National Football League to right their wrongs, the name of Washington’s team would not top his list of priorities.
“I think the NFL has so many bigger issues than what a football team is called,” said Moore, a retired physician. “On a scale of where they are doing the wrong thing, for example, concussions, that’s a much bigger deal.”
Moore is an enrolled member of the Oneida tribe of Wisconsin, which has been a vocal opponent of using Indian references in sports for decades. When the Redskins have played at Lambeau Field, tribal members have held signs at the stadium saying they were not mascots.
Despite his tribe’s official stance, Moore said he is not personally offended by the team’s name: “It doesn’t bother me.”
Even so, he would change it.
“I respect that it bothers enough people that it ought to be changed,” he said. “If it affronts enough people, even though it doesn’t affront me, then I think something should be done about it. No reason to anger people if you don’t have to. There are enough times when that happens innocently. You don’t have to purposely go out and try to do that.”
But just as the NFL has failed to properly address concussions, league and team officials will probably not change the name anytime soon, Moore said.
“I think as long as the seats are being filled, the bills are being paid, that it won’t be changed,” he said. “Unless it impacts the bottom line of money, I don’t think the people that are in charge of it will do it.”
“I’m proud of being Native American and of the Redskins...I like that name.”
Barbara Bruce, 70, Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indian Reservation, N.D., Chippewa
In the four decades that Barbara Bruce served as a teacher on the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indian reservation, she told her students to ignore one all-too-common insult from outsiders.
“We’re not dumb,” she said. “I told our kids, ‘You guys are smart.’ ”
She and her husband, who are both enrolled members of the Chippewa tribe, have spent most of their lives on the reservation, one that has produced — in addition to many oil rig workers — doctors, dentists and educators. Bruce and her husband hold college degrees.
Bruce, 70, who retired from full-time teaching and now works as a substitute teacher, said she knows well the many challenges Native American children are up against. The word “Redskin,” she said, is not one of them.
“Why are they making such a fuss over something that’s so piddly?” she said of opponents to the name. “I’m proud of being Native American and of the Redskins. I’m not ashamed of that at all. I like that name.”
She also likes the team’s warrior logo, even if it doesn’t resemble the Native Americans she knows.
“Of course, we don’t look like that,” she said. “We’re better looking.”
“This guy could buy and sell every one of us.”
Orville Blevins, 62, Sparrows Point, Md., Cherokee
Orville Blevins has been run over by a tractor, survived liver disease and fought lung cancer. His children, he will tell you, attribute his ability to beat the odds to the attitude he takes toward everything in life, including the name of the Washington Redskins: He does not dwell.
“Cry all you want, but the best thing is to forget the past and live for the day,” Blevins said.
Blevins, an enrolled Cherokee who goes by the Indian name “Little Wolf,” said his highest level of education was sixth grade and he calls his Maryland house a “ghetto teepee.” But he is not one to complain — not about his lot in life and not about a term that others might find offensive.
“It is what it is,” Blevins, 62, said. “We can’t change it because we ain’t strong enough to change it. Yes, our voices can be heard, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to make a damn difference because our voices were heard in the past and the white man still took all he wanted.”
Instead, the team’s owner Daniel Snyder can keep the name, he said.
“We don’t want nothing from the white man,” Blevins said. “Just leave us alone. You’ve done taken enough from us.”
Among his friends, he counts members of other tribes: Onondaga, Sioux and Blackfoot. He said they feel the same as he does about the name, and he does not understand why Native Americans would oppose it.
“Do these people who live on fixed incomes and on reservations honestly believe by screaming and complaining they’re going to beat this guy?” he asked. “This guy could buy and sell every one of us.”
Besides, he said, the team’s warrior logo keeps the image of American Indians in the public’s eye. “So it keeps some of the heritage going, which the world has been trying to destroy for years and years,” he said. “We’re like cockroaches — we don’t go away.”