Washington's NFL team returns to MN amid demands it drop offensive mascot

Native Americans and their supporters gather outside the Metrodome
Native Americans and their supporters gather outside the Metrodome to protest the Washington Redskins' name, prior to an NFL football game between the team and the Minnesota Vikings in November 2013.
Jim Mone | AP Photo 2013

Updated: 10:15 a.m.

As the Vikings host Washington on Thursday night at U.S. Bank Stadium, organizers hope to bring thousands of people to rally against the visitor’s “Redskins” nickname, widely considered racist and offensive to Native Americans.

Critics of the name are meeting at Peavey Field Park, located in south Minneapolis in one of the largest urban Native American communities in the country. They’ll gather at 2 p.m. and march to The Commons, the open space adjacent to U.S. Bank Stadium, for a 5 p.m. rally ahead of the game’s 7:20 p.m. kickoff.

“It's a very offensive misappropriation of who we are as a people,” said David Glass, a Native American and president of the National Coalition Against Racism in Sports and Media.

He said a similar rally in 2014 outside TCF Bank Stadium drew more than 4,000 demonstrators.

Grow the Future of Public Media

MPR's budget year comes to a close on June 30. Help us close the gap by becoming a Sustainer today. When you make a recurring monthly gift, your gift will be matched by the MPR Member Fund for a whole year!

“It was the largest rally in sports history protesting a sports game. And we are hoping that we exceed that number,” Glass said.

In an essay published Thursday in the Huffington Post, Minnesota Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan, a member of the White Earth Band of Ojibwe and the highest-ranking Native woman ever elected to executive office in the United States, described the D.C.-team’s name as perpetuating a dehumanizing stereotype.

“By celebrating this term, we celebrate the attempted erasure of Indian people,” Flanagan wrote of the moniker, noting that her 6-year-old daughter questioned the team logo when she saw it on TV. “She turned to me and said, “Mommy, that’s not okay. We’re people, not mascots.’”

Professional sports’ use of Native American terms and imagery has stirred controversy in Minnesota for decades, and was the source of public outcry during the Twins 1991 World Series matchup against Atlanta — where fans routinely made use of a “tomahawk chop” gesture that many found offensive.

The issue came up again this year during the National League Championship Series between the Nationals and Atlanta, when the Braves planned a “reduced” use of the gesture in deference to a Nationals pitcher of Cherokee ancestry.

The Cleveland Indians mascot, Chief Wahoo, has also been widely criticized and the team agreed to retire the symbol last year.

Washington, however, has steadfastly defended its use of the NFL nickname, in use since before World War II.

The team declined comment on Thursday’s protest in Minneapolis, but said other Native Americans would be gathering at a local sports bar, the Crooked Pint Ale House, to watch the game and support the team’s use of its nickname.

Vikings officials issued a statement ahead of the game, saying they were obligated by the NFL to use their opponents designated trademarks in in-game signage, online marketing and other game-related communications.