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American Indian team mascots hit home hard

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  • Robert Schmidt
    http://www.baxterbulletin.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20060926/OPINION01 /609260316/1014/OPINION American Indian team mascots hit home hard Throughout my
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 28, 2006
      http://www.baxterbulletin.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20060926/OPINION01
      /609260316/1014/OPINION

      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
      regalia.

      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
      paraphernalia.

      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
      community.)

      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
      Sept. 11.

      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.
      E-mail gbenge@....
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