In a year marked by significant moments for opponents of the Washington Redskins mascot, they achieved yet another one on Sunday, this time outside the 79,000-seat cathedral at which the name is most revered and its change most resisted: FedEx Field.
More than 100 activists chanted, marched and waved signs on church property about one-third of a mile east of the stadium. Although the gathering drew less than half the crowd organizers had hoped for, it represented the largest protest of the name that took place at a home game.
The demonstrators gathered in a grassy lot on the south side of Arena Drive, a road that thousands of tailgaters used to walk to the stadium for the final home game against the Dallas Cowboys. Police had surrounded the area with yellow caution tape, stationing officers on each side. Although confrontations never turned physical, they were frequently heated and profane.
Within feet of the busy sidewalk, demonstrators held signs of protest — “NO HONOR IN RACISM,” “CHANGE THE NAME” — and displayed burgundy-and-gold T-shirts adorned with dissent: “RETHINK,” “REPLACE,” “RENAME.”
“We are people,” the crowd chanted. “Not your mascots.”
The team, they told fans, would never again succeed unless the moniker is changed.
Most heading for the game ignored them. Others shouted back.
“It’s nothing personal,” one fan yelled. “You can’t change history,” said another.
A man with a sticker of an Indian head logo on his cheek said he didn’t understand: “They should be honored.”
Tusweca Mendoza, an 8-year-old protester who lives in Arlington, Va., dared a fan to call him a Redskin. He didn’t.
Darrell Pearson, a Redskins scarf around his neck, paused in front of the activists and pointed at his Ryan Kerrigan jersey. “Cherokee,” he yelled. “Cherokee.”
Pearson, a maintenance mechanic from South Carolina, said he is a quarter Native American and a member of the Cherokee Wolf Clan. He has rooted for the Redskins since childhood.
Pearson, 49, said he used to teach music on the reservation in Cherokee, N.C., and believes many Native Americans share his perspective. “It doesn’t bother me a bit,” he said. “Are we going to stop calling peanuts redskins?”
Team owner Daniel Snyder has also argued that many Native Americans don’t find the name offensive. He has vowed to never change it.
Shaka Abubakar, who said he has protested the name for years, stepped in front of passing Redskins fans and held a video camera to their faces.
Abubakar, 53, stopped a woman who, like him, is African American.
“I heard Dan Snyder is going to change the name to the Washington n------,” he told her. “How do you feel about that?”
The woman waved him off and quickly walked past.
Another man, his hat resembling a hog, approached the demonstrators. He carried a water bottle filled with an amber-colored liquid. The woman with him, her hair dyed blond, wore a jersey of Dallas quarterback Tony Romo.
Both told the demonstrators they had no reason to protest. The fans like the Redskins, the man insisted. That shouldn’t insult them.
“Another example of white people telling other people what they ought to be,” an activist shouted back.
“I’m so sorry that your feelings are hurt,” the woman shouted, smiling. “We all have things to boohoo about.”
Both refused to give their names.
Just before 11 a.m., the protesters marched around the edge of Jericho City of Praise, a renowned Prince George’s County megachurch that borders tailgate lots on nearly every side.
Most fans stared in silence or took photos with their phones. A few chanted “Hail to the Redskins.”
One man held up his middle finger, demanding to know why the demonstrators weren’t in Kansas City (home of the National Football League’s Chiefs) or Tallahassee (Florida State Seminoles), places with teams that have Native American mascots. He screamed expletives until his voice cracked.
Back at the grassy lot, speakers stood on the bed of a Dodge Ram and addressed the protesters. The blare of music from a nearby Cowboys tailgate party all but drowned out their voices.
“The purpose of stereotypes is to dehumanize indigenous people,” local artist Gregg Deal told the crowd. “We are fighting for civil rights.”
Meanwhile, at a nearby tailgate party, a group of Redskins fans shaved their heads during a charitable event originally titled “Scalp Out Cancer: Because Bald is Beautiful.” “Scalp” was replaced with “Shave” after The Washington Post reported on it and Native American activists expressed outrage.
Still, the event’s organizer, Michael Kennedy, wore a beanie that on the front read “Scalp Out Cancer.” Kennedy had sold fewer than 10 of the 40 he’d had produced but said he still raised about $2,000.
He noted that fellow fans were “supportive” of the effort. He knew of no one at the tailgate who mentioned the protest.
Just after the game’s 1 p.m. kickoff, the surrounding roads emptied of fans, and the demonstrators began to disperse. Several picked up scraps of paper and trash, determined not to leave a mess.
At the same time, a roar resounded from the stadium. DeSean Jackson had scored. The Redskins were winning.
“Hail to the Redskins. Hail victory,” the music boomed. “Braves on the warpath. Fight for old D.C.”
The Redskins soon lost the lead and never regained it. Other than at halftime, the full song would only play once more in the three hours that followed.
Michael S. Rosenwald and Toni Sandys contributed to this report.