Amid continuing criticism of their 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.
Clark, Cooley and Moseley traveled to the Rocky Boy’s Reservation in Montana on Monday and Tuesday, meeting with Chippewa-Cree tribal leaders and visiting a football practice and a rodeo session, which 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 owned 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 team president Bruce Allen, and they put together this week’s trip, which came a few days after construction began on a reservation playground, also funded by the team’s foundation.
Dustin White, a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of the Chippewa Indians, said the tribe filled out a survey that was sent to reservations across the country last year. At the time, he said, leaders didn’t know the Redskins were behind the survey, but he said he welcomes the partnership.
The team’s foundation has provided 150 iPads for the schools on the reservation, White said. It also sponsors a 33-member rodeo team that travels the country to compete. And the playground, White said, will serve families far removed from an urban setting. He said construction of it 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,” White said. He called the playground not only a “huge morale boost, but a point of community pride. And it’s all thanks to the foundation.”
The playground build kicked off a week of events, according to the tribe’s Facebook page, including calf roping, steer wrestling, a “Team Redskins” basketball jamboree and a youth pow wow.
“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 name — put out a press release on the “Top 10 Facts Omitted From D.C. Team’s New PR Website.”
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. ”
White said he is aware of the controversy surrounding the name, but that it’s not an issue for him or many Native Americans.
“Whenever I’ve heard the name Redskins, I’ve never associated it with a derogatory, racist name,” he said. “It’s always been the football team. And I’m a Packers fan.”
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 didn’t encounter a single dissenter this week. The RedskinsFacts.com site has published several video interviews with Native Americans who say they like the team and its name. The interviews were conducted by Cooley; more are on the way.
“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,” Clark said. “All the people saying the name is racist, I see them doing nothing to support the Native Americans whatsoever.”
That was a theme sounded by all three men, who all promised to remain involved in Native American causes and to make future visits.
“Once you come to one reservation, you realize that none of this is about the name,” Cooley said. “We can help people that’ve been basically ignored for a long time. And this name thing could change into something extremely positive, where people come to these reservations and say ‘Hey look, we could actually help them, not by changing a team name but by giving these people help.’ ”
Said Moseley: “There’s a real need here, and [maybe] nothing else comes out of this other than the fact that we’re bringing attention to a real blight in the U.S. that we should be ashamed of: the way we treat Indians, the way we always have.”
Some critics of the name, Moseley said, “don’t know what they’re talking about. They’ve done no research. They’ve never talked to an Indian. They have no knowledge of what Redskins really stands for. They just heard someone say this is like the N-word, and all of a sudden people jumped on the bandwagon and said it’s racist, and that’s ridiculous.
“We know it’s not a racist word,” Moseley said. “It’s not something they’re ashamed of. And at the same time, while doing this we found this need which is out there that we can help with, and so that’s what we’re doing.”
Theresa Vargas also contributed to this report.