Amid continuing criticism of the team name, the Washington Redskins have launched a new campaign to defend the moniker, headed by popular former players who traveled to Indian country this week.
Ads for a new site, RedskinsFacts.com, have recently appeared on the Web sites of Sports Illustrated, the Washington Times and The Washington Post. RedskinsFacts.com lists a five-man steering committee of former players — Gary Clark, Chris Cooley, Mark Moseley, Ray Schoenke and Roy Jefferson.
Clark, Cooley and Moseley traveled to the Chippewa Cree Tribe’s Rocky Boy’s Reservation in Montana on Monday and Tuesday and met with tribal leaders, visited a football practice and saw a rodeo session that was sponsored by the team’s Original Americans Foundation.
Cooley — a former tight end and fan favorite who now hosts a radio show for ESPN 980, a station controlled by Redskins owner Daniel Snyder — said he and other players voiced frustration with the debate over the team’s name during Moseley’s golf tournament last month. At the time, Cooley had just returned from a trip with team officials to the Crow Indian Reservation in Montana.
“It was about people wanting to [get involved] because they believe in the team they played for and are proud of the name,” Cooley said by phone from Montana. “As alumni, we want to be able to say we went [to reservations], we talked to people, and we understand now how to talk about it.”
Cooley said he brought the idea to the team’s president, Bruce Allen, and they put together this week’s trip, which came a few days after construction began on a Rocky Boy playground, also funded by the team’s foundation. The project is expected to be completed Thursday.
“When you see these kids running up to this playground with big grins on their faces, you know it’s worth it,” said Dustin White, a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of the Chippewa Indians. He called the playground not only a “huge morale boost, but a point of community pride.”
White added that the Redskins’ foundation has provided 150 iPads for schools on the reservation. It also sponsors a 33-member rodeo team that travels the country to compete.
“I volunteered when all this was taking place to try to put a stop to this foolishness that’s going on around the name,” Moseley said. “There are so few people that have ever been on a reservation to see how [Native Americans] live. We should be ashamed of ourselves that we don’t try to do more to help them. I’m here for myself, and I’m here for my alumni.”
In response to the new effort, the Oneida Indian Nation and National Congress of American Indians — which have been at the forefront of the protests against the team’s name — put out a news release about what they called the “Top 10 Facts Omitted From D.C. Team’s New PR Website.”
White said he is aware of the controversy around the name, but that it is not an issue for him or many Native Americans.
Cooley said the team is funding the RedskinsFacts.com ad campaign; the former players traveled on a chartered plane to Montana.
“The alumni and the Redskins have a long history of supporting each other, and this education effort is no different,” a Redskins spokesman said in a statement. “So where it is appropriate for the alumni to pay for expenses, then they will, and when it is appropriate for the Redskins, then the organization will. ”
Cooley said he has conducted video interviews with more than 50 Native Americans he has met during his trips who said they were not bothered by the name. Cooley said he has talked to more than 1,000 Native Americans on his trips without meeting a single critic of the name.
Moseley and Clark also said they had not encountered a single dissenter.
“I wanted to find out myself if Native Americans thought the name was racist,” Clark said. “This name that I took so much pride in, that I played for, all the sudden they were calling me, a black man, racist for saying this name. . . .
“What the Redskins name means now is awareness for the plight some Native Americans are going through,” he said. “All the people saying the name is racist; I see them doing nothing to support the Native Americans whatsoever.”