Opinion | Sports

Dolph Hatfield: A conversation about NFL team's racist mascot

Zema Williams, also known as "Chief Zee," with a faux headdress and a faux tomahawk. Photo by Katidid213 / Wikipedia

Dolph Hatfield imagines a conversation about the Washington NFL team's racist mascot:
It was a cool, late autumn Sunday and the Washington football team was playing a home game. Joseph Bennett, an African American gentleman in his early 60’s, was sitting in his usual seat, wearing his customary Indian headdress and burgundy Washington team jacket with its “Redskin” emblems. Joe noticed that the seat next to him was unusually empty.

Another fan sitting a few rows behind Joe shouted “Hey Joe, when are you going to get some real feathers in that bonnet and look like a real fighting Indian Chief?” Joe hollered--- “Tommy, wish I could, but the government has outlawed the use of real eagle feathers!”

At that moment, a gentleman, who was bundled in a heavy jacket with a hood that virtually covered his face, eased into the seat next to Joe. He quickly removed the covering exposing his painted black face, and hastened to introduce himself as Waya of the Cherokee Nation and extended his hand to Joe. Joe looked at Waya, put his hands on his hips and demanded to know, firstly, how he got a ticket to sit next to him and, secondly, how he could be so damn insensitive to paint his face black. Joe continued to speak harshly and said “Just get the hell out of here, NOW!” Waya quickly responded “how can you be so insensitive to wear an Indian headdress?” Joe was taken aback. Joe said, in a less harsh voice, “I have worn this headdress to REDSKINS games for 30 years. I’m considered the team’s unofficial mascot.” Waya responded “No one asked me how I felt and I’m likely one of the few people at this game who could really tell others how it feels seeing you with your headdress, your Washington team jacket and hearing the “R” word.”

Joe looked rather perplexed and responded, “Listen man, Redskins has been used as a term of honor and pride of Native Americans for 80 years and wearing an Indian headdress has been acceptable for as long as I can remember”. Waya said “Black faced minstrel shows and painted black faces began in the 1840s and continued in this country until the 1960s”.

Get the Story:
Dolph L. Hatfield: Extremely Awkward Conversation With a Native American at Redskins Game (Indian Country Today 4/18)

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