MINNEAPOLIS — Hundreds of protesters gathered outside Mall of America Field here Thursday to voice their objections to the Washington Redskins’ name before the team’s game against the Minnesota Vikings.
“We call this a walk, not a march, and this is a walk to raise the consciousness of people with regard to racism in sports,” said Alan Yelsey, who identified himself as an organizer for the American Indian Movement. “We’re certainly trying to change the name of the Washington team. That’s the focus. But you have a mix of people. You can see hundreds and hundreds of people from all walks of life here to look for respect for all people. And the name of the Washington team does not convey respect. It’s illegal and it damages children.
“So we’re here to make that case and raise the consciousness of fans who think they’re doing something to honor indigenous people when they’re actually doing the opposite. They’re harming the children of indigenous people.”
The group that gathered here Thursday evening was far larger than similar protests to the team name when the Redskins played in Green Bay and Denver earlier this season. (aerial photo) Yelsey said the group was “over 700, approaching 800 people” and was “right in the line with what we were expecting.” He called the reaction of people walking by on their way to the game “100 percent” supportive.
“People don’t see the name — and certainly in Washington, D.C., people don’t see the name — as a racist name,” Yelsey said. “And yet it conveys the murdered scalps of indigenous people — men, women and children. And that name is just a horrendous name for all of these people and for anybody of color … we’re raising up and saying anybody who denigrates any class of people like that needs to be stopped. And that’s what we’re doing here today is raising that level of consciousness.”
A Redskins spokesman declined to comment on Thursday’s protest, saying the team stands by the letter that owner Daniel Snyder sent to fans last month saying he was sensitive to opposing views but defending the name.
Team officials have said the name is intended to honor Native American people. Snyder has said he won’t change the team name.
“There’s a great deal of momentum and there’s a lot of fronts,” Yelsey said. “What’s interesting [is] there’s local legal fronts. We’re taking this to the state supreme court and saying the public monies of this stadium should not be used for the purposes of racist sports, and particularly the name of this team but also other teams that have racist names. It’s because of not censorship [but] it’s damaging. It’s not because it’s offensive. It’s because it’s harmful. It’s because it can easily be changed and the damage would not occur if people did not appropriate the religion and the culture of other peoples.
“And in this case, we’ve allowed this particular group, indigenous people, to have their culture appropriated, their elders appropriated, their images, all of the aspects of their sacred life appropriated for sports for the amusement and profit of sports teams like the Washington team.”
The effort to get the name changed will include an attempt to put economic pressure on the team, Yelsey said.
“We are going to try to damage the brand by not using the brand and not allowing advertisers to want to use the brand any longer and be backing it,” he said. “So we’re going after the brand. We’re going after it on a local legal front. We’re going on a trademark side. We’re going on a legislative side. There is a right to free speech. A private team can name themselves anything. But when it’s public stadiums and publicly funded stadiums, when it’s blatantly harmful and it’s institutionally racist, meaning it’s embedded in our culture and we need to root it out, that’s when we need to stop.”
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