In June 2014, I did something politically unthinkable: I publicly supported the Washington Redskins.
In response to a court ruling that the team’s name was “derogatory,” I called David I. Ramadan, a Republican delegate from Loudoun County, and we agreed to form a bipartisan “Redskins Pride Caucus” to counter the endless negative press against our favorite team.
My decision to come out of the Redskins closet was not a political calculation. I was a loyal fan who had watched the team unite the community in the glory days. I thought that the name-based criticisms were contrived and unfair and that the team deserved a public defender.
The backlash was immediate. My Facebook account was flooded with hundreds of negative messages. I was denounced as a racist. Others called me a hypocrite for defending the name when my own wife is a minority. The more considerate critics offered to “educate” me. The general reaction was that I had committed political suicide by defending the team’s name.
There was a silver lining: Old friends and acquaintances with American Indian blood had a very different reaction to the Pride Caucus, ranging from “That’s cool!” to “Hell yeah!”
Over the next year, I also began to connect with native tribes — and the reaction was overwhelmingly positive.
Through a Navajo-based radio program, I learned about the 505 Redskins, a Redskins fan group deep in the Indian country of northwestern New Mexico. I became friends with Eunice Davidson, a Spirit Lake Dakota Sioux who had fought to save the “Fighting Sioux” name at the University of North Dakota, and Walter Red Hawk Brown, a chief of Virginia’s Cheroenhaka (Nottoway) tribe, who came to a Redskins event in Richmond.
These new friends taught me that the name “Redskins” had deep roots in Native American lore, unlike nonnative terms such as “braves” and “warriors.” From my Navajo friends, I learned that the color red symbolized bravery and was painted on fighters before going into battle. The results of The Post’s poll showing that 9 in 10 Native Americans were not offended by the name was no surprise. Indeed, most native voices I heard from strongly opposed renaming efforts, whether targeted at a National Football League team or a high school.
It was remarkable that polite society was easily influenced by this pseudo-movement. Indeed, national politicians and media personalities, as well as a federal agency, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, became passionate advocates for a cause that was, at its core, a sham. Their actions and statements, such as the refusal to use the name “Redskins,” were based on a strange bit of 21st-century cultural imperialism, the desire to be sensitive to Native Americans while treating them as voiceless victims, not tribal members or even football fans.
This story deserves a happy ending. In January, I invited some of the 505 Redskins to see our boys play the Green Bay Packers in the playoffs. We met at a parking lot near the stadium, drank beer and grilled brats in the January chill. We took a picture with FedEx Field in the background, wearing the jerseys of our heroes: Kirk Cousins, DeSean Jackson, Ryan Kerrigan. It was not a political statement, just American guys celebrating America’s greatest sport and a team that recognizes America’s native tribes.
The Redskins may have lost that day, but I know that we won because we forged a friendship based on respect, not sympathy. Hail to the Redskins.
The writer, a Democrat, represents Fairfax County in the Virginia Senate.
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