MINNEAPOLIS – Demonstrators marched to the Metrodome on Thursday, demanding the Washington Redskins drop their mascot name or continue to face protests and legal challenges.
Carrying signs that read, “We Are Not Mascots” and “Redskin: A Dehumanizing Racial Slur,” about 700 protesters marched from the American Indian Movement national office about 20 blocks to the Dome, where the Vikings played Washington on Thursday night.
Among the demonstrators were Billy Mills, a Sioux Indian who won the 10,000-meter gold medal in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics; U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum, who has led a contingent of congressional representatives who oppose the name, and Joey Browner, a former Minnesota Viking and Pro Bowl player.
The march and demonstration capped several days of public opposition. Clyde Bellecourt of Minneapolis, a founder of AIM and a leader of the protest, told reporters on Wednesday that “The R-word is no different from the N-word.” He said, “We want the R-word completely erased from the memory of the NFL.”
Browner, who is of Polynesian, Cherokee, Seminole and Blackfeet Indian heritage, said that “Redskins” was a pejorative term of the American frontier when his ancestors were viewed as animals.
McCollum spoke Tuesday at a symposium on the mascot subject at the University of Minnesota. “It is offensive to Native American people, and it is offensive to many of us who are not Native Americans,” she said.
Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton also jumped into the controversy Thursday, saying the NFL team’s name is “racist” and “offensive.”
“I believe the name should be changed,” the DFLer said at a news conference. “It’s antiquated and offensive in our present context.”
Thursday’s demonstration recalled protests organized in Minneapolis in 1991, when the Minnesota Twins played the Atlanta Braves in the World Series, and in 1992, when Super Bowl XXVI was played at the Metrodome and featured Washington against the Buffalo Bills.
Those protests, like Thursday’s, were backed by the National Coalition on Racism in Sports and Media.
It was previously headed by the late Vernon Bellecourt, Clyde’s brother and an AIM leader.
The use of “Redskins” is drawing greater political opposition. Six of 13 Minneapolis City Council members and all seven members of the St. Paul City Council announced this week that they signed letters urging the NFL and Washington to drop the name. The Washington, D.C., City Council came out against the name this week.
AIM attorney Larry Leventhal filed a petition on Wednesday with Jim Showalter, the state management and budget commissioner, asking him to seek authority from the state Supreme Court to block the use of the Redskins logo and name in the new Viking stadium when he sells construction bonds for the project. Showalter’s office said it was going to study the issue.
One of Thursday’s protesters, Ryan Schneider, 34, an Ojibwe from Shakopee, said, “The name is indefensible. It makes Native American kids ashamed of who they are.”