WASHINGTON – Hurtful names and racial stereotypes of all types were discussed and dissected Thursday in a daylong symposium at the Smithsonian, and the Washington Redskins were at the top of the list for nearly all those who spoke.
“I can only imagine what it would be like to be at a football game at FedEx Field in a crowd of close to 90,000, all screaming at the top of their lungs, when what they are screaming is a racial slur,” said Judith Bartnoff, a deputy presiding judge in District of Columbia Superior Court.
By the time the day was over, they had a convert.
Unaware of what the presentation was all about, Andre Holland wore his burgundy and gold Redskins hat, ear muffs and key chain to the National Museum of the American Indian.
He was on a field trip with his Sports in America class from Anne Arundel Community College.
When the sessions ended, the 20-year-old student had removed the hat and disavowed the nickname of his lifelong favorite NFL team, having been persuaded that it’s as racist as the worst names he might be called as an African-American.
“I really don’t feel right wearing this stuff now,” Holland said. “And now I can’t even say ‘HTTR’ – which is ‘Hail to the Redskins’ – because that’s chanting something racist. I’m going to be a fan of Washington – a ‘Washington football team.’ Not the ‘Washington Redskins.’ ”
Panelists and audience members explained why they felt the name was offensive and offered all sorts of ideas – including a protest at training camp and the need to get franchise quarterback Robert Griffin III to speak out – that might persuade team owner Dan Snyder that a change is needed.
Holland was convinced. He was one of the few in the partisan crowd who showed up liking the name.
As he listened, he started tweeting – and he said the feedback he got opened his eyes, along the panels’ presentations about the history of insensitive mascots such as “Little Red,” who used to dance at University of Oklahoma games.
Also under scrutiny was a red-skinned image named “Mr. Yakoo” used by the North Quincy Red Raiders at a high school in Massachusetts.
Near the end of the final session, Holland went to the microphone and compared Redskins to the n-word, then turned around and gave a hug to the Native American standing next in line.
“A serious day for me,” Holland said.
Organizers say the Redskins did not respond to an invitation to participate, and no one stood up to defend the Redskins name when the audience was invited to participate.
There has been momentum toward changing names deemed offensive, although Snyder has been adamant that he’s not going to join the trend.
On Tuesday, Washington Mayor Vincent Gray specifically avoided saying the name of the franchise in his State of the District speech and instead referred to “our Washington football team.”