Peter Landeros and Louis Hilliard stood toe to toe Sunday morning, in the middle of a grassy field a couple blocks from FedEx Field, and talked.
Hilliard, on his way to that day’s Washington Redskins game against the Arizona Cardinals, sported a burgundy jacket with the Redskins logo showcased prominently on the front, a gold hat with a uppercase “R” rested atop his head.
Landeros, the leader of the American Indian Movement in the DMV-area determined to get the Redskins to change a nickname perceived as racist, met Hilliard as the fan walked into the group of about 40 people. Most of the group was comprised of supporters of the “#GoRedhawks” online campaign that spread false news stories across social media earlier in the week.
Hilliard, a self-described “fan of the sport,” attending his fifth Redskins’ game of the year after buying cheap tickets online, wandered over to the rally area after hearing the sounds of members of the “Uptown Boyz” drum group as they performed at the rally.
“You can have a choice whether or not to support racism,” Landeros said to Hilliard, as the two spoke for about five minutes, shaking hands at the end of the exchange.
Hilliard said he wanted to engage in an act of learning. If he didn’t know what the group was about, he said he wouldn’t understand. After the conversation, he said he would support a name change if Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder decided it was the right thing to do. Snyder has previously vowed not to change the team name.
Before he left, Hilliard took three of the free T-shirts with the Redhawks logo. One for himself, his wife and his 16-year-old daughter.
Hilliard was just one of the few fans who chose to engage with the activists, as hundreds more passed by the demonstration on the way into the stadium.
Included in the supporters were some of the key activists involved with Rising Hearts, a D.C.-based, women-led indigenous group responsible for creating the online campaign that altered Web pages from media outlets like Sports Illustrated, ESPN and The Washington Post to promote a false story that the Redskins had changed their name to the Redhawks.
The rally was publicized through the news release the activists put out on Wednesday after revealing the name change articles were part of a hoax.
“The only reason, nine times out of 10, things don’t change is people don’t know,” said Hilliard, who said if the team did change the name, he would support the move and never put on his Redskins jacket again.
Sebastian Medina-Tayac, one of the organizers behind the online stunt, said the activists are following up with in-person action to let fans see them and their message.
“The goal is to change the name,” Medina-Tayac said.
Just beyond the small fenced-off area of the rally, Tim Bostick, a 46-year-old pastor who is a licensed NFL-merchandise vendor, set up his tent to sell Redskins gear. Bostick, who said he has set up his shop on the same corner on Jericho City Drive and Arena Drive for the past five-to-six years, wasn’t too bothered by the gathering behind him.
“We have a right to coexist in peace,” Bostick said. “I’m going to keep doing what I am doing peacefully as long as they do what they are doing peacefully, because without love we have nothing.”
As fans passed his tent, the looming “Washington Redhawks” banner stood out in the background. Some fans stopped to inquire, asking about the affiliation. Others let their eyes wander to the rally, slowing their strides to take in signs placed across the fence. Others told Bostick they were inclined to buy even more of his Redskins gear in spite of the rally.
“This is a tactic and strategy that involves not just us ... Long story short, there is a lot of people and organizations working on this on different angles,” Medina-Tayac said.