‘We are not a mascot’

Thousands protested against the Washington Redskins name Sunday.

Daily Staff

Chants and drum beats rang out Sunday morning as hundreds of people marched down University Avenue Southeast in what some called the largest protest of the Washington Redskins’ name in the NFL team’s history.

“Change the name! Change the name!” demonstrators repeated as they joined other groups protesting outside TCF Bank Stadium.

About 3,500 people crowded near the stadium’s Tribal Nations Plaza, some of whom gathered hours before the Minnesota Vikings faced the Washington Redskins.

The game followed months of controversy over the visiting team’s moniker, which many have called demeaning and offensive to American Indians.

Thousands of frustrated protesters joined city, state and federal leaders for one of the largest on-campus demonstrations in the University of Minnesota’s history. But school and city officials have said they have no legal authority to ban the name or logo from campus.

Name controversy continues

Questions over whether Washington’s name and logo should have been allowed at the University have persisted for months.

The Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community donated $10 million in 2007 for the construction of TCF Bank Stadium, the largest gift Gophers athletics had ever received at the time.

That funding helped establish the stadium’s Tribal Nations Plaza, which honors the 11 American Indian nations in the state.

Conversations leading up to the protest ignited on a national level in June when U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn., sent an open letter to Vikings owner Zygi Wilf that asked him to speak out against the name, which she said violates University policy.

“The time for debate has ended — the name of the Washington franchise is clearly an offensive racial slur,” McCollum wrote in the letter.

University President Eric Kaler also condemned the name in an August letter to McCollum, saying he wanted to eliminate use of the logo and name on all game-day material.

“I agree that the current name is offensive and should be replaced,” Kaler said in his response.

However, University and city officials have weighed in on the controversy in recent weeks and said they don’t have legal authority to ban the team’s name from the stadium.

The University sponsored educational programming on American Indian issues during the week leading up to the game, and University Services provided a stage for protesters outside the stadium and helped organize the march from Northrop Auditorium.

Minnesota is home to many American Indian leaders, which was one reason for the protest’s scale, said David Glass, president of the National Coalition Against Racism in Sports and Media.

“The time is right to do this,” he said, “and we’re going to be following the Redskins around to every game.”

Hours of protests

The protests began hours before the game, as only the most dedicated of Vikings fans were tailgating near the stadium.

American Indians from at least four states bused in for Sunday’s protest, organizers said. More than two dozen groups of American Indians and activists were in
attendance.

Several city and University-based groups formed three separate protests, which converged outside TCF Bank Stadium around 10 a.m.

Two of the protests started on campus, with members of the American Indian Student Cultural Center gathering at Appleby Hall and national groups holding a rally at Northrop Auditorium.

“This is something we can march for and change,” said child psychology senior and AISCC member Marie Armstrong.

The American Indian Opportunities Industrialization Center organized a third protest, which drew hundreds of demonstrators to the stadium from its headquarters on Franklin Avenue East.

Marches to the stadium remained largely peaceful, though a few hecklers on both sides yelled and swore at each other.

University officials and protest organizers gave varying estimates of the crowd’s peak size. Some said it reached 5,000, but several Minnesota Daily reporters observed roughly 3,500 protesters.

The Minneapolis Police Department deployed two bicycle teams of seven officers each to secure protest perimeters and to keep people off University Avenue Southeast, said Second Precinct Inspector Kathy Waite.

Alexandria Greybull said she left her South Dakota home at 4 a.m. to make it to the protest.

“We don’t want to be out here represented badly,” Greybull said. “It’s really disrespectful for them to use the Redskins name knowing the definition of it.”

Lauren Johnson, who wore the Washington team’s burgundy and gold colors on Sunday, said she respects the protesters’ purpose but doesn’t think the name needs to change.

“When they named the team, they weren’t doing it to be derogatory — it [connotated] power … warriors, and fighters,” she said as demonstrators chanted for a name change yards away. “It’s just part of the history and the team.”

Samuel Wounded Knee, an American Indian from South Dakota, said changing the name would be easy.

“I’m addressing every Washington fan,” he said. “We don’t want to be their mascot. My son doesn’t want to be their mascot. Our culture isn’t for their fun and games. … We’re educating peacefully.”

After hours of marching and chanting, the protest had quieted by game time, as most demonstrators listened to speeches outside the stadium from local and American Indian officials.

“The name is a racial epithet,” Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges said after speaking to protesters. “There’s no room for that in the 21st century anywhere, let alone on a public stage and platform like the NFL.”

The Washington team has said the name honors American Indians. But others, like Robert Lilligren, president and CEO of Little Earth of United Tribes, say that’s an invalid argument.

“To hold it up as anything we should be proud of or should celebrate is really false,” the former Minneapolis City Council member said, “and the community’s voice has been saying this for a long time.”

A legal stalemate

Several protest leaders called Sunday’s demonstration the largest of its kind. But even the officials who spoke out against the Washington name conceded they were unable to keep it off campus.

The Vikings pay the University about $300,000 per game to use TCF Bank Stadium for the 2014 and 2015 seasons. As part of that agreement, the school can’t prohibit the Washington team name and logo, President Kaler said last month.

“We are leasing the stadium to the Vikings, but our contract does not allow us to dictate their schedule and who they play,” he told the Daily in an October interview.

As the protest wound down, Vice President for Equity and Diversity Katrice Albert voiced the University’s disappointment with the NFL for allowing the team to keep its name.

“Sports logos and names that are offensive to oppressed communities need to be changed,” she said. “The University wants to be on the right side of the issue.”

The city also couldn’t ban the name, though council members have discussed revisiting the issue when Washington plays at the new Vikings stadium, which is set to open in 2016.

Minneapolis City Attorney Susan Segal previously said that although her office would have liked to sue the team, banning the name would violate Washington’s First Amendment rights to free speech.

Some protesters praised the University for doing as much as it could to minimize the name and logo’s presence.

Many others said the name is hurtful and more should be done to retire it.

Chuck Norcross of Champlin, Minn., said people called him “redskin” when he was growing up.

“Even as a little kid growing up, I knew the name was not a very good name,” he said. “So I think [the team] should be renamed. In my lifetime, I hope to see it.”