American Indian team mascots hit home hard
American Indian team mascots hit home hard
Throughout my life, some people have predicted that, sooner or later, I
will go straight to hell.
On Monday night, Sept. 11, 2006, those predictions all came true. I indeed
went to hell.
For me, the trip started at the Dunn Loring Metro station in Fairfax
County, Va., just outside Washington, D.C. It ended in Landover, Md., home
of FedEx Field and the Washington Redskins football team.
As a proud Native American and a rabid football fan, I was going to FedEx
Field for two reasons to see some good football and to describe, from an
Indian perspective, the experience of attending a game of the team whose
name is an unspeakable affront to Native Americans everywhere.
The Road to Hell started inauspiciously. Boarding the Orange Line train
that would take me all the way to Landover, I noticed several people
wearing Washington Redskins jerseys and caps.
At successive Metro stops en route to Landover, a parade of
Redskins-attired fans boarded the train. By the time we got on shuttle
buses for the final ride to the stadium and the game against the Minnesota
Vikings, I was surrounded by people wearing burgundy-and-gold Redskins
I thought of Dante's "Divine Comedy," the 14th century epic poem that
portrayed hell as a descending series of circles ending in the lowest
circle of hell, a ghastly place reserved for the worst of sinners.
It was clear that I was descending rapidly into the inner circles of Native
American Hell. Treading through the stadium underbelly in search of my
section and seat, ominous sights abounded.
A woman with a painted face and a faux Indian headdress hurried past.
In Club Macanudo, a cigar-store Indian statue held a football aloft in his
right hand and a clutch of cigars in his left. A rancid, half-smoked stogie
was jammed into the statue's open mouth.
People of all sizes, shapes, colors and ages streamed through the corridor
wearing, or carrying, an unimaginable array of Redskins jerseys, caps and
And the roars from an unseen crowd told me I was getting closer and closer
to the inner circle of Indian hell.
A powerful aura of sights, sounds and smells assaulted all of my senses as
I walked into the huge and brilliantly lit stadium, filled to capacity by
an eager throng of more than 90,000.
What had started as a trickle of Redskins jerseys at the Dunn Loring
station exploded into a thunderous tsunami of burgundy-and-gold Redskins
shirts, jackets, seats, faces, billboards, scoreboards, logos, uniforms,
flags and banners.
It was shocking to behold a gigantic caricature of a Native American face
emblazoned on the middle of the field. By my estimation, the face and
feather were 30 feet wide. The same awful caricature vibrated garishly on
huge digital billboards at both ends of the stadium.
There were sporadic chants of "Let's go, Redskins, let's go Redskins."
Any doubt that I was standing at ground zero of Native American Hell was
dispelled when I saw what must be the largest and most blatant public
display of a racial epithet anywhere in the world the word REDSKINS
painted in massive block letters across both end zones.
(To grasp Native Americans' outrage and humiliation, try to imagine the
most hateful and disgusting racial or religious slur that could be used to
describe you displayed in colorful, 25-foot letters throughout your
Conditions worsened after Washington scored its only touchdown of the game.
The Redskins band went nuts. Fans sang "Hail to the Redskins." Redskins'
cheerleaders kicked and pirouetted. And runners carried billowing Redskins
flags across and around the field.
With nine minutes to play, I left. On the way out, I reflected on the one
uplifting aspect of my trip to Native American Hell: The halftime
presentation was momentous.
On the fifth anniversary of the Pentagon and World Trade Center tragedies,
the crowd paid a moving, heartfelt tribute to the heroes and victims of
An immense American flag was unfurled at midfield. The crowd waved tens of
thousands of small flags handed out before the game. They joined in singing
"God Bless America" and chanted "USA, USA, USA."
That was something we could all agree on.
George Benge, a member of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, writes a monthly
commentary on American Indian issues and people for Gannett News Service.