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Local Indigenous Artist Showcases the Racism of Redskin

(c) Gregg Deal

(c) Gregg Deal

Those who think the continuing movement to change the name of the local pro football team is a waste of time and trivial were clearly not at the recent Art All Night event here in the District. Secreted in one corner of the venue was local Indigenous artist Gregg Deal. His project, “Redskin,” took on the racial overtones of the team moniker and projected it at his audience.

What he, nor spectators or his helpers predicted was just how pointed it ended up being.

Deal first let me know of the project in early September. What initially struck me about his proposed performance piece was the fact he was willingly subjecting himself to some serious abuse. Natives in the area–as well as those protesting football games elsewhere in the country–have always been subjected to abuses by team fans, especially if they’re open about their opposition to the name. (Witness the reactions by fans, as recalled by several Natives, during a recent taping for The Daily Show.)

So why do it, especially in an art venue? “As people of color, or more specifically, Indigenous people, we deal with something called microaggression. It’s the needle pricks in our general American society and culture that says or does things that are offensive to Natives. They’re called ‘microaggression’ because they are passive aggressive enough to get by your average person, but still aggressive,” said Deal. “For example, when I worked at the National Museum of American Indian in 2004-2005, someone asked me if I still lived in a Tipi. This would be microaggression because it’s an insane questions that is based on stereotypes, but it’s also a statement about what this person believes quantifies me as an Indigenous person.”

The term ‘redskin,’ painted faces and faux headdresses, drunken war chants – these are all examples of microaggression. Deal’s performance piece was meant to use all of these abuses, commonly found in tailgate parties at FedEx Field and used by team fans around the world, over an eight-hour period. “I ended up calling it after just over four hours,” said Deal. “All of us–my friends who were helping me and myself–were just mentally and psychologically drained from the experience.”

Bryce Huebner, an Associate Professor at Georgetown University, was one of Deal’s assistants who played a part of one of the abusive fans. “I said things that I would never say in real life, in hopes of making it clear how ugly and harmful the casual racism against indigenous people in the United States is,” he said. “I was struck by how difficult it was to start playing that role, when I arrived my heart was pounding and I could hardly speak; but more troubling by far was the fact that it became easy to continue as I started to play off of the other actors. There’s an important lesson there: if you surround yourself with people who espouse hostile attitudes, it’s much easier to adopt those attitudes yourself.”

Deal said a lot of the audience mentioned to him how truly real it felt, watching it unfold, and he agreed. “After it got rolling, the invective felt truly real, like a few situations I’ve found myself in around the District.” When I mentioned that a Huffington Post review said it was unauthentic because he had used his friends as the antagonists, Deal laughed. “They should’ve been in my place, then. It certainly felt real to me.”

Deal (seated) in the middle of his "Redskin" performance. (c) Darby

Deal (seated) in the middle of his “Redskin” performance. (c) Darby

Tara Houska, a board member of Not Your Mascots and a big proponent of the name change movement in the District, was one of the audience members. “The experience of watching Indigenous-based racism being hurled at a Native was difficult, to say the least,” she said. “Some of those phrases hit too close to home, and brought me back to moments in which I’ve experienced racism. At times, it was hard to keep in mind that it was a performance. I wanted to yell at the antagonizers to back off, and felt the hurt Gregg must have been feeling.”

Both Houska and Deal were also participants in the recent Daily Show segment that showed a panel of team fans and a panel of Indigenous people who, after separate discussions, confronted each other through the show’s direction. The segment has had mixed reaction in the press, with a lot of sympathy generated for the four white fans (who all self-identified as some fraction of various tribes, but with no real knowledge of their heritage – or, in one case, how generational fractions work). The incidents taped at FedEx field later between some of the Native panelists (specifically, the 1491s) and fans weren’t shown, which is unfortunate.

“Honestly, both the Daily Show and my art performance felt very similar,” said Deal. “The racism against Indigenous people in this country is so ingrained it it’s culture that the only way a team could exist as a mascot (which is defined as a clown, a court jester, by the way…nice ‘honor’) in the first place. The Washington Redskins–and other Indian mascots–are a really good illustration of not only how disconnected America is from it’s own history, but how disconnected it is from the issue of equality towards Indigenous people is. We are literally sitting on an issue where a significant amount of this country’s Indigenous are saying ‘it’s offensive’ and the answer is ‘no, it’s not offensive at all!’”

Gregg Deal with "Colonialism"

Gregg Deal with “A Nice Can of Colonialism”

Deal went on to say the whole movement to change the name isn’t really about offense, but about equality. “What you’re looking at is the tip of a very big iceberg of issues that are simply illustrated by this specific issue. The fact that we don’t seem to own our identity enough for someone to allow us to assert that identity appropriately, but that a corporate sports team is making billions from our image and likeness and has the audacity to fly it under the flag of honor is insanity,” he said. “Let’s be honest here, it’s not about honor, tradition, or any other lame excuse Dan or his constituents are saying. It’s about money, and the fans have all bought into supporting one of this country’s financial top one percent.”

Houska felt that Deal’s passion really came through in his performance piece, and she applauded him for taking a stand in such a public way. “I think it was a very in-your-face method to get locals aware that Natives experience racism, including the racist imagery and name of the Washington team,” she said. “We have all experienced being belittled and told to ‘get over it.’ I hope that people walked away with a sense of understanding that microaggression is a very real and damaging thing. And how it feels to be deluged by caricatured Natives via the Washington football team and having no say in it, despite being the subject of that caricature.”

Deal agreed. “I believe the term REDSKIN, if it belongs anywhere…it belongs to Indigenous people. In the same way the Black community essentially own the N-word,” he said. “While there are different schools of thought on that word and it’s usage in the Black community, it’s understood that if you use that word outside the Black community, you’re a certain type of person. The word ‘redskin’ belongs to us, and it’s not up to [non-Indigenous people] how it’s used.”

For more information on the name change social media movement, visit Eradicating Offensive Native Mascotry, Not Your Mascots, or follow the #changethename hashtag on Twitter.

History, Opinion, Sports Fix, The Features

Hey R**skin Fans, Snyder Cares! (Not Really)

With little fanfare, Washington pro football team owner Dan Snyder slipped a letter out to the team’s fan mailing list this past Sunday. It was a masterful work of self-service. In it, Snyder finally realized there were problems in Indian Country, based on a supposed 26 visits to various reservations around the country. The visits – all cherry-picked to councils who “agree” with him about the “non-offensive” nature of the team’s moniker – apparently opened his eyes to the plight and ills of reservation residents.

Let’s set aside for a moment that Snyder refuses to meet with tribal councils who oppose the name, including the still-open invitation from the Oneida Nation in New York. Snyder quickly jumped to the “hey, there’s more important issues to deal with than changing a football team’s name” defense, pointing out the horrific poverty rates, unemployment, poor health, and abysmal education found on many Native reservations. And yes, these are real problems. Big ones. Continue reading

Sports Fix

The Meaning or Lack Thereof of the Redskins 3-1 Start

Photo courtesy of
‘Fred Davis’
courtesy of ‘Keith Allison’

I have spent this past week digging through so many football stats I started to dream of numbers spiraling through an immense blackness. I am filled with confusion at what all these numbers mean, what story they tell. A stat is useless unless it tells a story, contains meaning. The numbers I have looked at tell what has happened so far in the Redskins season. The numbers tell the story of a much improved team. The Redskins are a team who are controlling the game, but how much of an impact what has happened on what will happen remains a mystery.   

People smarter than me have compiled and analyzed these numbers against past history and against the strength of schedule to deduce that the Redskins have a 43.3% chance to make the playoffs. Before the season began most people would have guessed that percentage to be much closer to zero, and now it is just a bit below the odds of a coin flip. There are still those that say the Redskins have no shot at the playoffs, and this baffles me. I have never understood how some can make such declarative statements about something as unpredictable as sports. The Redskins 3-1 start is no fluke as they have outscored their opponents by a 20 point margin. Mostly on the strength of their defense.

Continue reading

Sports Fix

Redskins 2011 Season Preview

Photo courtesy of
courtesy of ‘Danilo.Lewis|Fotography’

The story of the 2010 Washington Redskins needs no retelling. If the images of McNabb sulking on the sidelines and Haynesworth rolling on the ground aren’t burned into your memory then you weren’t paying attention. It can be argued that the issues with McNabb were partly his being taken out of comfortable surroundings and then feuding with the Shanahans. What cannot be argued is that McNabb threw a career high in interceptions with 15 and his lowest number of touchdowns since 2003 with 14, and his 77.1 passer rating was his worst since his rookie season in 1999 when he had a passer rating of 60.1. At the age of 34 Donovan McNabb had the worst season of his career, and he found himself benched for Rex Grossman in the final three games.

The main issues with the Redskins in 2010 were the same as they have always been. They continued to try and be the off-season champs with the trade for McNabb and stuck with Albert Haynesworth in the 3-4 defense despite his objections that he was not that type of player. Haynesworth swore that by working out with his personal trainer he would be ready for the 2010 season, but he failed multiple fitness tests and missed time in training camp. This season the Redskins do not have a McNabb, Portis, or Haynesworth, but what they might have is a team. The 2010 Redskins were seen as a disappointment more because of the expectations than the results. The team finished with the record the talent dictated it should.

The Redskins have made it a habit to ignore problems at the bottom and middle of the roster and to try and go for the big splash. The Redskins never wanted to put a team on the field. They wanted a collection of stars they hoped would play well together and cover up shortcomings at non-glory positions like the offensive and defensive line. When the big name signings and trades failed the Redskins ended up left with nothing and struggled through season after season. This off-season the Redskins took a different approach. They traded 35 year old defensive lineman Vonnie Holliday to the Cardinals for 24 year old running back Tim Hightower. In 13 games started for the Cardinals in 2010 Hightower averaged 4.8 yards a carry and 46 yards a game with an average of only 9.6 carries a game. A league average running back average 4.2 yards a carry in 2010. With a normal workload of between 20-25 carries a game Hightower could provide a vast improvement to the Redskins running game.
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Sports Fix, The Features

Week 2 Recap: Skins vs. Texans

Photo courtesy of
‘Our seats in the upper deck’
courtesy of ‘BrianMKA’

One thing is certain about the Redskins: they are rarely boring to watch. After giving up a 17-point lead in the second half and nearly 500 yards passing, the Skins fell to the Texans 30-27 in overtime. Both teams played very well for the most part but a few mistakes cost the Skins a victory. The blocked field goal in the 4th quarter, the holding penalty on Stephon Heyer after a critical 23-yard catch by Santana Moss, and the offsides call on Chris Horton were among the biggest blunders. Two key injuries also affected the game as Laron Landry and Trent Williams tweaked their left wrist and knee respectively. The overtime itself was torture for Skins fans as the team went for a 52-yard field goal, which Graham Gano made, but Texans’ coach Gary Kubiak called a timeout just before the snap. Gano’s second attempt was way off the mark. When the Texans got possession of the ball, they moved it to the 18-yard line and Neil Rackers hit a 35-yard field goal giving Houston a victory after 71 ½ minutes of football. There is no question that the Skins gave a full effort in this game. It’s just a matter of holding a lead and finishing plays late in the game that they need to improve upon.

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The Daily Feed

Clinton Portis on Women Sports Writers

Photo courtesy of
‘Clinton Portis’
courtesy of ‘Keith Allison’

What started out as a run-of-the-mill Tuesday conversation with Redskins running back Clinton Portis on D.C. sports radio’s 106.7 The Fan has now been immortalized by Dan Steinberg via the Sports Bog as another example of male chauvinism in D.C. sports.

During The Mike Wise show at 10:30 this morning, Portis offered his opinion regarding the buzz currently circulating female reporter Ines Sainz. Sainz has made headlines in recent days due to the NFL investigating a complaint filed by the Association of Women in Sports Media on behalf of Sainz who claims that members of the New York Jets harassed her on the field and in the locker room when she visited their practice facility to do a story on their quarterback Mark Sanchez.

The matter is still under review according to ESPN’s Chris Mortensen who received word from a league spokesman, but in the meantime Mr. Portis offered his two cents: Continue reading