MINNEAPOLIS (AP/WCCO) — The action at the Redskins-Vikings game started Sunday morning outside the stadium in Minnesota, as a crowd estimated by organizers around 5,000 rallied against Washington’s divisive nickname.
The event began with a march through the University of Minnesota campus to TCF Bank Stadium, where Native American leaders, local politicians, former sports stars and other speakers voiced their disdain for Redskins owner Dan Snyder and his refusal to change the nickname they’ve derided as derogatory and racist.
With many of the attendees wearing colorful, traditional Native American clothing and more holding signs, the gathering was by far the stiffest resistance for a Redskins road game and the latest push in a nationwide campaign that has cranked up over the last year. Some people wore burgundy T-shirts with gold lettering, mimicking the team’s logo with the words “Rethink” and “Rename” instead of Redskins.
“We’re not mascots!” said former Vikings strong safety Joey Browner, one of 29 speakers who took the microphone on a lawn just steps from the stadium entrances.
Browner, who is part Native American, wore a black Vikings cap with a feather sticking up out of it.
“As a former player I feel really sad right now. … This is still standing in front of us,” said Browner, a six-time Pro Bowl pick, who called the nickname a “bullying tactic.”
The university coordinated logistics for the march and rally and organized programs on campus all week for awareness, discussion and education related to the nickname issue. One of the many institutions to call for a riddance of the Redskins name, the university, lacked the legal or contractual authority under the stadium use agreement with the Vikings to prevent the Redskins from playing there.
The university pressed the Vikings to remove references to the nickname and logo during the game, but the team deferred to NFL policy.
The Vikings have said they’ve recognized the sensitivity of the issue and have maintained “ongoing and respectful dialogue” on the matter with Minnesota’s significant Native American communities, citing “strong and positive” relationships with those groups.
“We respect and support our local community voices having an opportunity to be heard on this issue,” the Vikings said in a statement earlier this week.
“I am a Native American, parent, homeowner, taxpayer, Vikings fan, but I am not a mascot, sub-human relic and I’m not feeling honored,” marcher Justin Huenemann said. “I’m your neighbor. I live in Richfield. I pay taxes. I have family, so today I’m really here to say, ‘I’m human. I’m fully human. I’m not sub-human.”
The NFL didn’t immediately respond for comment on the protest. Commissioner Roger Goodell said earlier this year the nickname has been “presented in a way that honors Native Americans.”
According to organizer Lonny Leitner, a pro-Redskins rally of about 400 people, mostly Native Americans, also took place on campus a couple of blocks away. Signs like “Native and proud to be a Redskin” were present.
“The Redskins, when we think of the Redskins, we think about winning a football game. We don’t look at it the way everyone looks at it here,” Redskins fan John Valsai said.
According to results of an Associated Press-GfK poll last January, Snyder has support from the majority of the public. Among adults surveyed, 83 percent said the Redskins should not have to change their nickname.
Radio and television ads criticizing the nickname were rolled out in the Twin Cities market leading up to the game, and the city of Minneapolis to Hennepin County passed resolutions that called for a change of the nickname. Plenty of prominent Minnesota Democrats either spoke or attended the rally, from members of Congress in Keith Ellison and Betty McCollum to state legislators to Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges.
The two-hour series of speeches was a peaceful gathering, including folk music and Native American dancers.
As the rally got going, a group paraded along the sidewalk between the stadium and the stage, chanting: “Hey, hey, ho, ho, this racist name has got to go!”
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