Sep 21, 2013 - Robert Griffin III: Take a Stand Against the Washington Redsk*ns Mascot, By Brandon Ecoffey
It is time for Robert Griffin III to step up and take a stand against the mascot of the Washington football team that he plays for.
In a story posted on mlive.com written by Kyle Meinke, RGIII spoke on the issue when he said, “I’m not Native American… I’m sure I have a little bit of blood in me, as my parents have told me. I’m sure some of you guys in the (media) room have some Native American blood in you as well. But we are not at that authority to know what to do in that situation. I just leave that to those who know a little bit more about the situation.”
It is understandable that asking a second year quarterback, who is being labeled as the most electrifying player of his generation, to take a stand against racism is a lot to ask. However, he isn’t just any young man. He is a minority who is benefitting from those before him who had the courage to take a stand.
At one point in time in the NFL, there was an unspoken policy of excluding black athletes from the lily-white NFL quarterback club. The stereotype that the black athlete was not intelligent enough to lead a group of men to the promise land and that he lacked the fortitude to endure the pressure that accompanied playing the game’s most revered position were well engrained into the mental processes of team owners, general managers, and coaches. If you were black, you played any position except quarterback, plain and simple. Your only worth was that of which comprised your physical attributes. According to the accepted belief at the time, the shortcomings of the black athlete’s genetic makeup prevented him from being able to fulfill the duties required of a NFL quarterback. That position was reserved for whites.
However, several black athletes challenged this legacy of exclusion. Players like Warren Moon and Doug Williams led the way for the likes of Kordell Stewart and Michael Vick, who then opened the door for today’s rising stars. Russell Wilson and RGIII have essentially kicked the door off its hinges and are revolutionizing the game. These trendsetters and freedom fighters had the courage to challenge racial stereotypes and prove them wrong. It is RGIII’s duty as a young educated minority to do the same and tell Dan Snyder that when his contract expires, he will not be part of an organization that promotes bigotry.
There have been plenty of pundits that have written on this subject but none have written from the perspective of a young Native American male, who is a tried and true football fanatic. I love the game and I love the league. From fantasy football, to my hideous bright orange #27 Steve Atwater Denver Broncos jersey, to my earliest sports memory of my dad falling off the couch after John Elway pulled a miracle win out against the Houston Oilers in the late eighties; the NFL has become part of me.
There have been times in my life where the NFL has carried me through some of my saddest and darkest hours. Think I am lying? Just ask my friends who will be betting stamps, on trumped up odds, in a tiny TV room this Sunday and for many more Sundays to come. They can vouch for the hours I have spent watching and cheering my favorite athletes on while sitting in my one and only government issued plastic chair. Americans from all walks of life share this amazing league. It is our institution and when I say ours, I mean Natives also. This isn’t about political correctness; this is about a common bond and a human right to decide what is offensive to us.
Having grown up on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, I know for a fact that there are more pressing issues for our nations than cultural appropriation, but that in no way makes the moral argument against the use of the name Redskin any less significant. Keith Olbermann stated it best the other night when he said, “Redsk*ns, the last racist word you can say in the office without getting fired.” Olbermann echoed the sentiments of sports commentators like the Fantasy football guru Matthew Berry, Mike Greenberg, Mike Golic, Peter King, as well as my personal favorite, Colin Cowherd. These voices of ESPN have joined others in the mainstream media denouncing the name.
The reason why the name is offensive has been explained by numerous other columnists and the purpose of this column isn’t to reiterate these reasons. This is about asking RGIII to step into our shoes for a moment and look at it from our perspective. If there is anyone in the sport who can relate to why this offends us, it is he. In reality, if RGIII had played in the NFL only 20 years earlier he would have never even had the opportunity to play the position he is destined to be an all-time great at.
So my question is why is it acceptable to mock Native people and not others? I am sure that my close friends who are brothers in Alpha Phi Alpha or my friends who are Gangster Disciples or Vice Lords for that matter will forgive me for the language I am about to use, so I will stick my neck out and do it. If I was to ask RGIII or the African American fans of the Redsk*ns if they would support a team called the Washington N*ggers, would they be offended? What if I then proceeded to reason with them that the term ‘n*gger’ is really meant to honor them, their families, and their ancestors who were murdered in the name of racism and Cultural Darwinism, would they then say it is ok to keep using it? I am sure you have a more clear understanding of the “why” now.
Racism against any minority is an attack on all of us. The death of Trayvon Martin and the laws that allowed for this black teenager to be racially profiled because of his dress and the tone of his skin are things that we as Native people looked at with sadness and outrage. Many people in our communities have never met a black man but still we had empathy for him and his family because the same thing that happened to that young boy has happened to many of our children across this country. Native writers like Ruth Hopkins and Gyasi Ross spoke out in support of the black community because we have walked in your shoes and we never want something like that to happen ever again. It is a wrong that our society allowed to happen.
When a cop pulls one of us over because we have long hair, or when one of us are followed around in a store because we are wearing G-Unit jeans and not ones made by Guess or Ralph Lauren, we can relate to the stories that the black community has shared with us about having similar things happen to them. What may come as a surprise to RGIII however is that when commentators or keyboard warriors tell you, your family, and friends to stop crying over non-issues, we take up the fight. These are real issues for your community and for ours. The term Redsk*n is another that is an issue, not only for one group of minorities but one for all of us.
Athletes like Muhammad Ali, John Carlos and Tommy Smith knew that Civil Rights were right and necessary and they took a risk to speak out. They understood the power they possessed as athletes and public figures. The United States is an institution with multiple layers and steps needed to be taken to give minorities a chance at equality. The NFL is no different. This institution is as much a part of me as it is my black, white, conservative, gay, or straight friend. If anyone has the power to bring about some change, it is that young educated black man playing quarterback in Washington and it is time for him to step up.
Brandon Ecoffey is a contributor for Lastrealindians.com and the Managing Editor of Native Sun News (Contact Brandon Ecoffey at email@example.com).