America is really ready for some football, but this NFL season opens in the midst of a national firestorm surrounding the Redskins name and its defiant Washington owner, Daniel Snyder.
Native American communities, joined by state and national politicians, are demanding a name change. But there are naysayers. ESPN analyst and former Chicago Bears head coach Mike Ditka says the change-the-name movement is a joke; and the latest ESPN.com poll is running 75 perecent in favor of keeping the name.
In the middle of it all, two former NFL players are coming at the debate from a position of respect, and their visits to Native reservations helped guide their perspective on the issue.
Randall McDaniel is one of the finest offensive linemen in NFL history – an NFL Hall of Famer named to the NFL’s All-Decade Team of the 1990s. McDaniel made his fourth trip to Jim Warne’s Warrior Society youth football camp at the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota last week. Warne, Oglala Lakota, has stayed in touch with McDaniel, his former teammate at Arizona State University and when Warne brings his Warrior Society youth football camp to South Dakota every summer, McDaniel clears his schedule.
Courtesy Jim Warne
NFL Hall of Famer Randall McDaniel working with Lakota athletes on Pine Ridge
Earlier this summer, former Pittsburgh linebacker Marv Kellum, who played for the Steelers when they won their first two Super Bowls, was a guest coach at the Seneca Nation football camp in New York.
And after taking trips to Native reservations, they both have an opinion on the Washington team name. “I never even knew the true meaning of the word Redskins,” Kellum told ICTMN. “I had no idea it was linked to the government’s bounty on men, women and children. It’s hard to believe that the government was paying money for killing people. Most white people are ignorant to all of that. I was. How can you have a [mascot] name like that once you know what it means?”
McDaniel said he can’t speak for the NFL or Daniel Snyder, but something has to change. “You see change happening around you all the time. Colleges and the NCAA have made those changes,” said McDaniel. “You can highlight the team’s history, but to be defiant and say it’s not affecting anyone is going through life with blinders on. If you have to ask yourself, ‘Would you want your culture being talked about like that?’ then things would happen a lot sooner.”
“The NFL is a conglomerate,” Warne added. “Money talks and the NFL is a big monster. But in the end, I hope they do the right thing. Daniel Snyder could change the name to the Washington Warriors, in honor of all veterans, and everybody would be happy."
Name-change debate aside, McDaniel and Kellum says they have a better understanding of Native people after the two-day Warrior Society summer camps. “I knew it wouldn’t be like the movies. I’m glad to be able to learn something new every time I come here,” said McDaniel, who turns 50 in December. “The Native American perspective, just like the Afro-American perspective, was left out of the history classes I took in school. I knew when I was growing up there was slavery in my own culture, but they never talked about that in the history books. They mentioned it, but they swept aside what it was like for the people that actually lived it. So it’s nice to be able to come here and learn the other side of the story from an Indian perspective.”
Warne’s mother Beverly grew up on Pine Ridge, and took him out to Wounded Knee when he was a child. As Warne walked among the mass grave at the site along with McDaniel, McDaniel paid tribute to the place where 150 men, women, and children were massacred by the 7th Cavalry on December 29, 1890. “It puts things in perspective,” McDaniel said in a near-whisper. “Everybody goes through struggles in their history somewhere along the line. But when [the massacre] happens right here in your own country, this is very eye opening.”
Meanwhile, Kellum made his first trip to the Seneca reservation, and left it with a lasting impression. The kids seemed to be equally impressed; Kellum broke out his rings from Super Bowl IX and X. “I let them see ’em, touch ’em and hold ’em. One of them asked if those are real diamonds?” he said with a laugh. “There was one kid with a Philadelphia Eagles T-shirt. I told him ‘I’ll trade you my ring for that shirt,’ and he wouldn’t do it. The people I met definitely made a difference in the way I think. Whatever I might have taught them, I learned so much more from them than they’ll ever know.”
Uriah John has been going to the Seneca camp in New York for the past six years. The 14-year-old’s eyes were wide open with possibilities. “They told us you can get off the rez and get an education, but to remember that you represent your nation and your people to the rest of the world,” said John, who was one of 80 kids that had a chance to hold Kellum’s Super Bowl ring in his hand. “The Thompson brothers (Onondaga) for example, have gone on to play professional lacrosse. I’m looking to be the first Seneca professional athlete.”
Jesse Trueblood Sr., Lakota, grew up on Pine Ridge and coached a little football at Pine Ridge High School. His son, Jesse Jr. spent his summers at the Warrior Society camp and is now at Chadron State College in Nebraska on a football scholarship. “I would say that Randall and Jim coming here is a big part of my son’s success. Jesse’s an offensive tackle and got to learn from the best,” said Jesse Sr. “The statement they make during the camp is that, ‘You never quit.’”