AZ leaders applaud NFL Washington team name change

“We must stand united in correcting our storied history,” said Lizer, hopes future generations will be able to reap the benefits of a better understanding of historical and social injustices. (Photo via Twitter)

“It’s a victory over greedy corporations that refuse to listen to the voices of Native people,” said activist Douglas Miles, referring to it as a “David and Goliath scenario.” (Photo courtesy of Douglas Miles)

Amanda Blackhorse, an activist who has worked for years to remove the name of the Washington team, said it needs to “commit to rebranding without any ‘Native’ names, themes, or imagery.” (Photo by Carly Henry/Cronkite News)

PHOENIX – Washington’s NFL team on Monday officially dropped its name, a derogatory term for Native Americans that the team has held since 1933.

Native leaders and supporters in Arizona hailed a change activists have been working toward for years. The reactions ranged from relief to reflection.

Reflecting on a victory years in the making

Amanda Blackhorse
An activist and member of the Navajo Nation, Blackhorse was a plaintiff in the lawsuit Blackhorse v. Pro Football Inc. (2014)

“Today is truly a monumental day in our fight to eliminate racist ‘Native’ mascots and names in professional sports. Farewell to the Washington team’s racist r-word name and logo!” she said in a news release. “As much as I want to fully celebrate this day, I am concerned with the Washington team’s lack of clarity around their rebrand. In their statement, they did not commit to rebranding without any ‘Native’ names, themes, or imagery. Given the history of the Washington franchise and recent public statement from Coach Ron Rivera, they’ve mentioned favoring new branding that honors Native people and the military. In order for the Washington team to truly stand for racial equality, a 100% rebrand of the Washington franchise with NO Native themes/imagery/names is required.”

A chance to get it right

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez
“For us, here in the Navajo Nation, we are grateful; we appreciate that the name will not be used anymore. But we have been advocating for that for some time, and Amanda (Blackhorse) has been at the forefront of this and I appreciate her strength and her resilience even though she is dealing with others out there, maybe non-Natives that are pushing back on this. If this name has been utilized for many decades to put down Native Americans, here is a chance for the NFL and the team to get it right.”

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Calling on all teams to stop ‘disparaging terms and logos’

Navajo Nation Vice President Myron Lizer
“We must continue to work together to correct these issues and to shed light on the historical and current injustices that affect all Indigenous people,” he said in a news release. “One of those remedies is to cease the use of the disparaging terms and logos among all teams and organizations. We must stand united in correcting our storied history. It is our responsibility to ensure that our children and their children have the benefit of historical facts.”

Plunging profits led to decision

Congressman Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.)
“The campaign to end this form of racism has been going on for years, but the team owner and many of the people who have profited from it have insisted they’d never change. Today’s announcement comes because those profits are drying up after years of tireless campaigning to end this injustice. Native Americans have faced racism since before our country was even founded, and today is a chance for all of us to reflect on the many other ways we’ve done them harm and can start to make amends. This change ends one instance of associating Native men, women and children with fundamentally racist branding, but there are many other instances and the people responsible for them need to make the same change.”

‘Mascots’ misinterpret Native culture

James Riding In, member of the Pawnee Nation, co-founder American Indian studies
Riding In is co-founder and an associate professor of American Indian Studies at Arizona State University:
“In the 20th Century, teams began to adopt names with Indians and oftentimes Indians have been driven out of those areas years before. They don’t understand Indian culture, they don’t understand Indian values or Indian beliefs and most importantly, they don’t understand the history of American Indians and the United States. It’s a very problematic, troubling history, and the term ‘redskin’ is one of the most troubling names around. It is the equivalent to the ‘n-word’ for African-Americans.”

‘David’ triumphs over ‘Goliath’

Douglas Miles, activist in the Apache Nation and founder of The What Tribe Project
“I feel it is a victory. It’s a victory over greedy corporations that refuse to listen to the voices of Native people and tried repeatedly to silence and basically destroy the voice of Native activists who for decades have fought against this racist mascot caricature of Native American people. It’s almost like a ‘David and Goliath’ scenario. They didn’t really care until Black Lives Matter began to shine a light on every corner of America’s society and the systemic racism that exists in it… the next step is to look at other teams that also have Native American-type imagery and mascots. Nobody wants to be a sidekick or a stereotype, and nobody deserves to be. Any sports franchise would be smart to reach out to community leaders like myself and ask what we think about it.”

Time to make a long overdue change

Matthew Sakiestewa Gilbert, UA professor, member of the Hopi Nation
Gilbert heads the department of American Indian Studies at the University of Arizona:
“I think it’s about time. This has been a controversy and a problem for a number of years. Although there are a number of sports teams out there that have Indian-type names, the ‘Washington Redskins’ is probably one of the more racist terms out there as far as how it pertains to Native people. The franchise is better than that and certainly applaud the efforts of many, many people to use this moment that we find ourselves in American society to continue to push and to change that name.”

Sports Reporter, Phoenix

Jordan Rogers is a California native who expects to graduate in December 2020 with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism. Rogers is a digital sports reporter.