Opponents of the Washington Redskins name have staged protests over the past two years from California to Texas, Arizona to Minnesota. They have also taken their pleas to Congress, the Federal Communications Commission and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
But no significant demonstration has taken place outside the cathedral at which the name is most revered and its change most resisted: FedEx Field.
That ends Sunday, when organizers hope to draw hundreds of people to a protest at Jericho City of Praise, a church about one-third of a mile east of the stadium. At the same time, however, many fans likely will be attending a nearby fundraiser that has infuriated the rally’s organizer.
The original name of the event, which was changed after The Washington Post reported it, was “Scalp Out Cancer: Because Bald is Beautiful.”
“That’s insane. Really? They’re that clueless?” said Tara Houska, who is planning the protest. “That’s incredibly offensive. That’s the kind of thing that we’re basically saying is wrong.”
Extremeskins.com is a team-sponsored message board for the Redskins’ most passionate fans. Its members have a popular tailgate party at each home game. On Sunday, they also plan to host a charity event where participants will shave their heads to raise money for cancer research.
The event’s name sparked a backlash that prompted those who run the message board to ask that it be changed, according to Michael Kennedy, the event’s coordinator. “Scalp” has since been replaced with “Shave.”
Kennedy, 33, said the original name was not meant to offend anyone, and he insisted that the use of the term “scalp” was neither a reference to the Indian mascot nor an insult targeted at the protesters.
“I’m offended that people are getting so offended by this,” he said.
He still intends to sell beanies that say “Scalp Out Cancer” on the front and “Ask me why I’m bald” on the back. Kennedy, who paid $250 to have 40 produced, said proceeds will go to charity.
Kennedy, a season-ticket holder for about seven years, said he was inspired to do something after a friend was diagnosed with cancer.
“We’re taking our hair all the way down to the skin,” he said before the name change. “Really no connection to the Redskins, other than that we’re doing it at the tailgate.”
Anyone who protests such a charitable effort, he said, would be making “a fool of themselves.”
Kris Rhodes, executive director of the American Indian Cancer Foundation, said her organization would never accept money from a fundraiser with such a title.
“I’m just dumbfounded. I have no words,” said Rhodes, a Chippewa. “It’s just so incredibly ignorant.”
Activists say they have waited until now to stage a rally at FedEx for a number of reasons, not least because of the potential for conflict or violence. Native Americans who attended protests in the early 1990s at RFK Stadium recall intense confrontations with fans who, they said, spit and poured beer on them.
Houska, 30, said Sunday’s demonstration is meant to be peaceful, but the Couchiching member expects other Native Americans to be similarly outraged by the fundraiser’s initial name.
The effort has raised more than $600 on Giveforward.com and has a Facebook page, which before The Post’s article led with: “It will be Dallass [sic] Week, and what better way to celebrate it by scalping some people for a great cause!”
This, Houska said, offers a prime example of why activists have not protested at the team’s home stadium in so many years.
“Imagine being a Native American’s parent and bringing your child and seeing language like that?” she said.
But why the movement’s leaders have waited this long to demonstrate at FedEx goes beyond the potential for confrontation.
Geography has played a part. The Native population in the Washington area is not nearly as large or active as in, say, Minneapolis, where on Nov.2 an estimated 5,000 people attended a protest outside the University of Minnesota’s TCF Bank Stadium when the team played the Vikings.
A number of people from Minnesota plan to attend Sunday’s protest — including those involved in the American Indian Movement — and others are coming on buses from Pennsylvania, Maryland and New York.
The delay to target FedEx was also strategic, said Joel Barkin, spokesman for the Oneida Indian Nation, which has helped organize and fund many of the national efforts.
This isn’t the first time the mascot controversy has become a topic of national discussion — the 1992 Super Bowl between the Redskins and Buffalo Bills drew an estimated 3,000 protesters to Minnesota — but at the start of its latest resurgence, activists were determined not to frame the issue as a fight between them and sports fans.
“We recognize that people have a long history with the team name, and many people don’t mean to offend,” Barkin said. “I think we’ve wanted to be very thoughtful about keeping this from seeming like a binary thing between Native Americans and fans.”
A Redskins spokesman declined to comment on the protest, saying the organization’s focus is on its rival. Team owner Daniel Snyder has argued that the name honors Native Americans and has vowed never to change it.
A chief deterrent to protesting at Snyder’s stadium, activists say, is simply its location and the nature of the surrounding property. Public land comes nowhere near FedEx’s entrances, whereas at RFK, demonstrators could address fans as they walked in and out of the stadium.
Charlene Teters, a Spokane member, helped organize rallies at RFK in the early 1990s. She said the demonstrators usually numbered two dozen and seldom exceeded more than about 50.
Their mission was to educate the public on how offensive the mascot is to Native Americans, Teters said, but those who have supported the name made the same arguments back then that they have in recent years. She said she expects them to make them again Sunday.
In the fall of 1991, John Cooke, the son of then-owner Jack Kent Cooke and the team’s executive vice president, addressed objections to the mascot: “Over the years, it’s come to represent the best of the culture — bravery, organization, the whole works. The name Redskins means football in Washington. We honor Native Americans. We believe that.”