The Washington Post

Marion Barry urges Redskins to drop name in flurry of tweets about racism

Council member Marion Barry throws up his hands after making remarks at a 2012 event in Washington. (Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)

Marion Barry waded into the controversial waters of the Redskins name Friday, sending a flurry of tweets that touched on race and challenged team owner Daniel Snyder to pick a name that would make everyone proud.

“It’s Super Bowl time. 4 Washington, we should reflect not on the loss of games, but our loss of honor. Dan, YOU CAN redeem it. Do what’s right,” the D.C. Council member and former mayor tweeted Friday morning, followed by, “C’mon Dan. Let’s elevate this conversation. Do you want to be remembered as stubborn or loved for standing up against a racist past?”

By mid-afternoon, the Ward 8 Democrat who was recently released from the hospital had sent more than a dozen tweets on the topic, linking several times to a two-minute ad released recently by the National Congress of American Indians. The ad, entitled “Proud to be,” goes through the many names Native Americans call themselves, and the one they don’t.

At least two of Barry’s tweets implied the team’s name is backed by non-minorities who can’t understand what it means to be the target of racism.

“I do note that most of the people who dont want to change the name haven’t been the subject of slurs. Walk in our shoes to know how it feels,” read one tweet. Another: “Why do these Whiteskins on twitter get so angry when someone challenges them on their cont. use of Redskins slur? Doesn’t sound nice does it?”

Barry, who is no stranger to racial controversy, is the latest high-profile figure to come out against the team’s name, which has been described by its opponents as a slur against Native Americans. President Obama has said that if he were the team’s owner, he would think about changing the name. Sportswriters, clergy leaders, civil rights groups and Native American leaders have also been vocal about the need for a change.

Snyder has said that he will never change the team’s name, and in a letter to fans last year, he called it a “badge of honor.” Team executives have consistently pointed to a decade-old poll that show the majority of Native Americans do not find the name offensive.

On Friday, during his state-of-the-NFL address in New York, National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell defended the name when asked whether he would feel comfortable addressing an American Indian as “Redskin” to his face.

“I’ve been spending the last year talking to many of the leaders in the Native American communities,” Goodell said. “We are listening. We are trying to make sure we understand the issues. Let me remind you: This is the name of a football team, a football team that’s had that name for 80 years and has presented the name in a way that it has honored Native Americans.”

The Oneida Indian Nation of New York, which has been one of the most vocal opponents of the team’s name, issued a news release afterward, calling Goodell’s comments “deeply troubling.”

“Commissioner Goodell represents a $9-billion brand with global reach, yet insists that it is somehow no big deal that his league uses those vast resources to promote this slur,” Oneida representative Ray Halbritter said in the release.

Theresa Vargas is a reporter for the Post’s local enterprise team.

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