The four die-hard Redskins fans thought the opportunity was as golden as the vintage helmets of their favorite football team: “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” wanted them to appear on the Comedy Central program to defend the team’s name, which has been under relentless attack.
The Redskins Nation citizens eagerly signed up, most of them knowing that they might be mocked in their interview with correspondent Jason Jones. But several hours into the Sept. 13 taping of the yet-to-air episode, the fans, all from Virginia, said they were suddenly confronted by a larger group of Native American activists — all of whom were in on the showdown prearranged by “The Daily Show.”
The encounter at a Dupont Circle hotel was so tense that an Alexandria fan said she left in tears and felt so threatened that she later called the police. She has told “The Daily Show” to leave her out of the segment but doesn’t know whether the producers will comply.
“This goes way beyond mocking. Poking fun is one thing, but that’s not what happened,” said Kelli O’Dell, 56, a former teacher who lives in Alexandria and doesn’t watch the show regularly. “It was disingenuous. The Native Americans accused me of things that were so wrong. I felt in danger. I didn’t consent to that. I am going to be defamed.”
Brian Dortch, who runs a home-repair business in Dinwiddie, Va., and counts himself a Comedy Central fan, said he and his fellow Redskins supporters asked producers in advance whether they would have to face off with Native Americans.
“They told us they were going to have a fan panel, and, at some other time, they were going to do a panel with Native Americans,” said Dortch, 38. “So I said back, ‘Just to clarify, specifically, we’re not doing a cross-panel discussion right?’ The producer said, ‘Yeah, right. That would be too serious for Comedy Central.’ ”
Matt Polidoro, one of “The Daily Show” producers for the Redskins segment, referred questions to Renata Luczak, a Comedy Central spokeswoman, who declined to comment. Brennan Shroff, the segment’s other producer, did not return an e-mail seeking an interview.
The Native Americans who confronted the Redskins fans — including Amanda Blackhorse, the lead plaintiff in the case that stripped the Redskins of their trademark protections this year and is being appealed — said in interviews that they marched into the room and accused the fans of backing a racist mascot.
“My heart goes out to them because they are people, too,” said Tara Houska, an Ojibwe from Couchiching First Nation who lives in the District and works for the grass-roots group Eradicating Offensive Native Mascotry. “But it’s a weird position for them to take, because someone is crying over the loss of their offensive mascot when I am right there, standing in front of them. I don’t think they’re racist. I think their mascot is racist.”
The Native Americans endured some abuse, too, when they were taken to FedEx Field on Sunday to interact with Redskins fans who were tailgating before the home opener against the Jacksonville Jaguars. That also got ugly. At several points, according to one of the Native Americans, Redskins fans yelled obscenities at them, and one guy shouted, ‘Thanks a lot for letting us use your name, boys!’”
A few weeks ago, “The Daily Show” began recruiting the Redskins fans for the segment through Twitter. In one e-mail to Maurice Hawkins, 43, a sales consultant from Hampton Roads, Va., who agreed to participate, Polidoro outlined the episode’s format: “The plan is to sit down with a small panel of fans, then interview the Native Americans opposed to the team name, then maybe end up shooting at a tailgate or something before a home game for some quick additional interviews & b-roll [supplemental footage].”
On the morning of Sept. 13, the four Redskins fans arrived at the Park Hyatt hotel and began taping an interview with Jones in a small conference room. Their interview lasted about three hours, with Jones playing the role of a sarcastic reporter, accusing them of supporting a racist mascot and using props such as dictionaries, which define the Washington team name as a slur.
The fans found Jones mostly funny. “We kept telling him that we felt the name honored Native Americans,” O’Dell said. “And then we just felt like, ‘Are we done yet?’ ”
Meanwhile, the group of Native Americans — which included members of a comedy group called the 1491s — hung out in a separate room, waiting to make its surprise entrance.
“They essentially explained days in advance that the fans are going to be in there, and they’re just going to be essentially justifying the use of the word Redskins and the use of racial imagery, and they’re going to say a lot of things they would most likely not say in front of American Indians — and that we were going to go in there and see if they’d actually say all of that in front of us,” said Bobby Wilson, 29, a 1491 member who was flown to Washington from Phoenix for the segment. “That was definitely something we could get on board with. It didn’t seem strange or unfair on our end, considering that each of us has always been confronting racism on this level.”
As Jones wrapped up his interview with the Redskins fans, he made an unexpected transition, according to O’Dell. “Jason says something like, ‘Well, don’t you think it would be great if you could just have a conversation?’ ” she recalled. “He turns around, and Native American people came in, just glaring at us. ”
Jones pulled out some beer and chicken wings, O’Dell remembered, and sat back and watched. Both the fans and Native Americans said the room first filled with awkward silence, then vitriol.
“I said to them, ‘You sound like an alcoholic, someone who’s in denial and who doesn’t want to believe what they’re doing is not right,’ ” recalled Blackhorse, who said the interaction with fans left her feeling “dehumanized.” “They don’t see anything wrong with it.
. . . That’s what the owner [Dan Snyder] is feeding their fans.”
O’Dell said she felt trapped. “I was told that I was ‘psychologically damaging Native American children,’ and every time we tried to say something, we got cut off,” she said.
She said she took off her microphone while they were still filming. As she packed up her belongings, Shroff, one of the producers, approached her.
“I said to him: ‘This is not how adults behave. This is not anything I signed up for.’ Tears were running down my face. I was shaking,” O’Dell said. “I told him to tear up my contract. He said, ‘I don’t know if I can do that.’ ”
All four fans said they still would have gone on the show if the producers had told them in advance that there would be a debate. But they felt misled and exploited because they weren’t told. Hawkins said he wouldn’t have worn his Redskins jacket — at the producers’ insistence — if he had been expecting to square off with Native Americans, especially one of the leading activists against the team name.
“Going up against Amanda Blackhorse? It’s like playing football and they’re going to have RGIII,” Hawkins said, referring to injured Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III. “I am just an average fan. These are activists who have media training and talking points.”
O’Dell said she e-mailed Polidoro asking that her consent waiver be destroyed, but he wrote back saying: “I’m also sorry to hear that the shoot was so upsetting for you & the other panelists!” He added: “I know we can’t destroy any releases & we have consent to air everything we shot, but I also know not everything will make it to air.”
Two days later, O’Dell said she called D.C. police and tried to submit a police report, but authorities told her no crime had been committed.
The Native Americans, meanwhile, celebrated the experience on social media. “We had a blast shooting with thedailyshow Jason Jones is a master of his craft,” tweeted Ryan RedCorn , a 1491 member, linking to an Instagram photo showing him and his colleagues posing with Jones at FedEx Field.