At Eagles game, natives and allies protest 'Redskins' name

Jon Foster, at left, a former DC resident, argues as a group protests over the Washington Redskins team name and mascot outside Lincoln Financial Field before the Philadelphia Eagles play the Washington Redskins in Philadelphia, PA on October 23, 2017. DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer

It didn’t take long for an argument to start Monday outside Lincoln Financial Field — between a woman of American Indian heritage and a guy in a red-and-gold Redskins mask.

Washington fan Jon Foster insisted that his head gear, bearing the logo of his favorite team, was an honor to her. Donna Fann-Boyle of Neshaminy — of Choctaw and Cherokee heritage — told him that was ridiculous, that the Redskins name and logo were racist and harmful to children.

”If you told them it’s a sign of pride,” responded Foster, formerly of Washington, and who said he also had native blood, “they wouldn’t grow up thinking that.”

As the Eagles prepared to face Washington on Monday Night Football, the national debate over sports teams’ use of native names and mascots came to Philadelphia. It wasn’t pretty. A group of about a dozen native people and their allies were met with some applause — but also with jeering “war whoops” and the “Tomahawk Chop” from an Eagles crowd. One fan cranked up a tape of “Hail to the Redskins,” the team fight song.

The few Washington fans in attendance kept walking when approached by protesters.

The demonstrators were accompanied by police as they marched from 11th Street and Pattison Avenue, a nexus for crowds at Eagles home games, to a spot outside the stadium

“They should change the name,” a guy in an Eagles jersey said to the group.

“Go Redskins,” said another man.

A loud argument broke out across a fence, with one Eagles fan insisting that dictionaries defining Redskin as offensive were wrong.

The demonstration was organized by Indigenous 215, a local native-rights group, and Philly With Standing Rock, which was formed to support tribal efforts to block the Dakota Access Pipeline.

“Go Eagles, win the game,” protesters chanted, “Washington, change your name.”

The loud, drum-banging rally came as the NFL is enmeshed in debate over players’ protesting injustice by taking a knee during the national anthem.

Many native people insist Redskins is a deeply racist word, and for years have held demonstrations at stadiums around the nation. Those protests have moved public opinion, though not the Washington team. Owner Daniel Snyder says the name will never change.

But organizers of the Monday rally it may be a moment when more people are willing to listen. That’s driven by the tumult over players refusing to stand for “The Star-Spangled Banner,” and the furor surrounding Confederate monuments – a debate that has reached deep into Philadelphia, where people are divided over the future of the statue of former Mayor Frank L. Rizzo.

But the matter has also gotten attention, organizers say, because Native American concerns have erupted in the news — the Standing Rock pipeline protest in North Dakota, the drive to protect Bears Ears National Monument in Utah, and the push to reclaim the remains of children who died at the former Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania.

Snyder insists the name shows honor and respect, as do other people who support the use of Indian images and symbols. Native peoples say the term comes from violence against their ancestors, from the 1800s bounties placed on the scalps of Indians.

The team won a crucial victory in June, when the Supreme Court ruled that a clause forbidding the placement of trademark protection on disparaging terms or logos was a violation of free speech. A year earlier, a Washington Post poll found that nine in 10 Native Americans were not offended by the Redskins name — a finding disputed by other natives who said the methodology was flawed.

The public tide has slowly been moving against the use of Indian symbols and names, as dozens of high schools and school districts across the country have dropped or banned the use of such terms and mascots. Some media outlets have banned or restricted the use of the Redskins name.

Outside the stadium, smoke wafted from charcoal grills and small seas of people moved by in Wentz jerseys. As game time neared and darkness fell, police bicycle officers formed a cordon to keep demonstrators safe.

”Go home!” one man yelled at the group. Others kept walking into the stadium, asking each other why the Washington team name was being protested at an Eagles game.

Organizers said the Redskins would face demonstrations at every game this year.

”The mascot is racist,” said Ruthanne Tickel of the native-rights group Arrows. “We’re out to tell the world.”