News & Politics

Native American Leader Challenges Players on Washington’s NFL Team to Sit

The National Congress of American Indians, which represents over 500 tribal nations, calls for athletes to stay home rather than play under the team's racist name.

Photograph via Flickr user Keith Allison

It’s somewhat amazing that the national reckoning on race has barely brushed Washington’s NFL team. On Juneteenth, Events DC removed a statue of the team’s rabid segregationist former owner George Preston Marshall from their former stadium. The team followed suit by scrubbing Marshall’s name from its “Ring of Fame” and other locations. And while the team has stepped on a number of rakes with its recent social media efforts, there’s another racist name it still has not dealt with: its own.

On Friday, Fawn Sharp, president of the National Congress of American Indians, called for players on the team to “rip down that name like it was a statue of a Confederate general in their locker room,” and to “sit at home rather than wear the NFL equivalent of the Confederate flag.” Sharp provided the following challenge to the team’s players exclusively to Washingtonian, which we’re running in full:

Who Will Become the Colin Kaepernick of Washington’s NFL Team?

By President Fawn Sharp with Matthew Randazzo V

The fact that the most prominent sports franchise in America’s capital uses a racial slur against Native Americans as its brand name is not only a disgrace—it’s a confession.

It’s an obvious, all-capital-letters confession of the entitlement and racism of America’s ruling classes, who openly confess and demonstrate that Native Americans are the only community of color in America whom they hold in such subhuman contempt that they can be openly slurred on national TV as a matter of corporate policy.

As the President of the National Congress of American Indians, elected to represent over 500 Native American Tribal Nations on the global stage, I am often asked what my opinion is about the Washington, DC, NFL franchise, but I have held back for the right moment.

That moment is now.

The racial slur can no longer be removed by the complicit, indifferent, tone-deaf ownership of the franchise, because the stain they have fixed onto their own name and enterprises is now permanent.

It is an insult that can no longer be retracted, a sin that can no longer be erased.

Since it’s too late to give the team name up, it’s time for it to be taken.

It’s time for the players to rip down that name like it was a statue of a Confederate general in their locker room.

I am calling for members of the NFL franchise in Washington, DC, to rise to the occasion and become heroes. All I ask is that you state the unequivocal moral truth: just as you would never play for the Washington [insert any other racial slur], you will no longer play for any team branded with a racial slur against Native Americans.

As long as that team name stands, players of conscience should sit at home rather than wear the NFL equivalent of the Confederate flag.

Who is brave enough to walk out of the locker room of Washington, DC’s National Football League franchise and into the history books?

What athlete is bold enough, selfless enough to say that he will sacrifice his own well-being to stand up for the millions of Native Americans, and hundreds of Tribal Nations, that are everyday insulted and dehumanized by his employers’ brand name racial slur?

Who is willing to add their names to those of Muhammad Ali and Colin Kaepernick, who exchanged transient athletic stardom for historic glory?

Doing so would empower further racial justice activists while denying rich plutocrats who have ignored decades of Native Americans’ pleas the chance to engage in an intelligence-insulting, carefully choreographed dance of belated wokeness at a time of their choosing.

The only question is what player will show the courage, the integrity, the vision, and the compassion to be the hero that first stands up for what is right.

The fact that you will win the standoff, one way or another, should be self-evident.

Despite the financial losses, the vicious ridicule, the hatred and threats of countless reactionaries—Kaepernick stands triumphant, as validated by history as Muhammad Ali was for refusing to fight the Viet Cong for the same government that everyday abused, imprisoned, and killed his black brothers and sisters.

If you stand against the Washington, DC, franchise, you may lose a few NFL fans, but you will gain a few million Native American friends and allies who will stand by your side as your brothers and sisters for long after your playing days are over.

The moment has come—now we wait for the Man of the Moment.

When it comes to doing the right thing, there can be only one motto…

Just do it.

Senior editor

Andrew Beaujon joined Washingtonian in late 2014. He was previously with the Poynter Institute, TBD.com, and Washington City Paper. His book A Bigger Field Awaits Us: The Scottish Soccer Team That Fought the Great War was published in 2018. He lives in Del Ray.

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