By Chris Hoenig
American Indians call themselves many things. There are tribes and tribal leaders they identify with. Celebrities and athletes, past and present.
Athletes. Yes, there have been American Indians who were professional athletes—one of the greatest pro athletes ever, Jim Thorpe, was of both American Indian and European descent. He won Olympic gold in the decathlon and the pentathlon, and played three different sports professionally: football (where he is considered a legend), baseball and basketball.
And, yes, American Indians do support professional sports. While the NCAA bans schools from using American Indian mascots, Florida State University is a glaring exception. Why? It has the blessing of the Seminole tribe.
But despite persistent statements from the National Football League, there is one thing that American Indians don’t support: the nickname of the NFL team based in our nation’s capital.
That’s the message in a powerful commercial released for the Super Bowl by the National Congress of American Indians. Over the course of two minutes, the narrated ad runs through tribes from coast-to-coast (the Inuit of Alaska and Navajo of the Southwest to the Chippewa of the Upper Midwest and the Choctaw of the Southeast), adjectives (proud, forgotten, spiritualist, patriot, underserved, struggling, resilient) and famous American Indians (Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse, Red Cloud, Jim Thorpe, Will Rogers, Geronimo) … all things they are proud to be.
“Native Americans call themselves many things,” the ad says. “The one thing they don’t …”
And it ends with an image of a Washington Redskins football helmet. But never once in the ad is the name “Redskins” said, nor does it appear in the YouTube description of the video. Instead, it calls for people to “get involved by contacting the Washington Professional Football Team,” a part of the Change the Mascot campaign that was launched by the Oneida Indian Nation and supported by the National Congress of American Indians.