Irony, anyone? That’s what Donna Fann-Boyle wants to know.
In an NFL consumed by fiery debate over players protesting injustice by taking a knee during the national anthem, one team will come onto the field in Philadelphia on Monday bearing a name and logo that she and other American Indians consider deeply racist: the Redskins.
When Washington faces the Eagles before a national TV audience on Monday Night Football, Fann-Boyle will be among the demonstrators outside Lincoln Financial Field, demanding an end to what they say is a destructive slur.
“They can’t see how hypocritical it is,” said the Neshaminy woman, who is of Choctaw and Cherokee heritage. “How can you deny this ugliness?”
Native people and their allies have been protesting against the name for years. But organizers of the rally — called “We are a people, not your mascot” — think the country may have reached a point where more people are willing to listen. That’s partly driven by the controversy over players refusing to stand for “The Star-Spangled Banner,” but also, they say, because Native American concerns have burst into the news: the Standing Rock pipeline protest in North Dakota, the drive to protect Bears Ears National Monument in Utah, the push to reclaim the remains of children who died at the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania.
The Redskins say: Forget it. The matter is settled.
“We’ll never change the name of the team,” owner Dan Snyder told USA Today in 2013. “It’s that simple.”
Snyder insists the name is one of honor and respect, an argument shared by those who endorse the use of Indian images and symbols. Natives say the term Redskin is born of violence, from the 1800s bounties placed on the scalps of Indians.
The team won an important 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 9 in 10 Native Americans were not offended by the Redskins name — a finding disputed by natives who said the methodology was flawed.
The public tide has slowly, steadily been moving against the use of Indian symbols and names.
Dozens of colleges, high schools, and school districts across the country have dropped or banned the use of Indian names and mascots. Civil rights and religious groups have spoken out, and even media outlets have changed practices. A 2013 Pew Research Center survey identified 76 news outlets and prominent journalists that banned or restricted the use of the “Redskins” name.
The Inquirer, Daily News, and Philly.com website routinely use the team name in their reports. However, sports columnist John Smallwood stopped using it in 2013, writing that he considers it a vile racial slur.
“It’s as bad as the ‘N-word,’ which most media won’t print or say. So I won’t write it,” he said in a column earlier this month. He simply refers to the team as “Washington.”
For Philadelphia physician Jennifer Kariwenta Diabo, the national fight over the Washington name and logo can be personal and painful.
A week ago, she took her 4-year-old daughter, Caliana, to a pumpkin farm — and bumped into another child wearing a Redskins shirt.
“How is this young child wearing the mascot supposed to know this is wrong or racist?” Diabo asked. “This child’s parent is enforcing this negative stereotype, and so this child grows up thinking it is OK.”
It happens all the time, she said. At a shopping mall, a school, on the street, she and her children can come face-to-face with the word Redskins or the stereotypical “Chief Wahoo” logo of the Cleveland Indians. And it needs to stop, she said.
“Sports mascots are nothing but insulting to us,” said Diabo, who is of Mohawk descent. “Now is really the time to drill this into people’s minds, and be visible, so people will see us as real people and not a cartoon character on somebody’s sweatshirt.”
Diabo is part of Indigenous 215, a local native-rights group that is co-organizing Monday’s demonstration with Philly With Standing Rock, which was formed to support tribal efforts to block the Dakota Access Pipeline.
It’s unknown how many people will attend. Ian Washburn, who is semifamous, or infamous, as a devoted Washington fan who shuns the team name, is supposed to be there.
In many cases, these are old names from another time — to which fans can cling with almost religious devotion.
The baseball Boston Braves adopted their name in 1912 and kept it through moves to Milwaukee and Atlanta; the Cleveland team took the Indians nickname in 1915; the Chicago Blackhawks began play in 1926. The Dallas Texans, founded in 1960, relocated to Kansas City and became the Chiefs in 1963.
Fann-Boyle, who has fought to make Neshaminy High School stop calling its teams the Redskins, says there is no hierarchy of insult — all the names must go. All provoke offensive behaviors, such as fans putting on “war paint,” wearing feathers, yelling out “war cries,” and waving their arms in the “tomahawk chop.”
For Washington, the saga began in 1933, when then-owner George Preston Marshall changed the name of the football Boston Braves to the Boston Redskins. He moved the team to the nation’s capital in 1937.
The National Congress of American Indians took an official stand against Indian mascots in 1968, frustrated by how the term Redskin was used interchangeably with savage in movies and books to portray what the group said was a misleading, denigrating image.
Awareness grew in the 1980s, and in 1992 thousands of demonstrators gathered outside the Metrodome in Minneapolis when Washington played the Buffalo Bills in Super Bowl XXVI. The year 2013 proved a milestone: President Barack Obama embraced the movement, sportscaster Bob Costas called the name “a slur” on Sunday Night Football, and the District of Columbia Council unanimously asked for the “racist and derogatory” name to be changed.
Leaders of the Monday rally say they hope to advance that progress.
“Some people don’t even know the history, so they think they’re celebrating Native Americans,” said Mabel Negrete, a cofounder of Indigenous 215 and a descendant of native Chileans and Peruvians. “Now there’s more awareness, just like what’s happened with Indigenous Peoples’ Day,” an increasingly common replacement for Columbus Day. “It is moving forward, but very slowly.”
"We Are a People, Not Your Mascot," Monday Oct. 23, 4:30 p.m., 11th and Pattison near Lincoln Financial Field. Rally followed by march.