Not too long ago I found myself in my home state of South Carolina standing in an NFL gear shop with my brother. I was doing some shopping when I characteristically found myself engaged in football banter. The target of the Townes Trash Talk was a random, middle-aged white man. He was an avid Carolina Panthers fan, and my brother and I proudly pull for the burgundy and gold of the NFC East. When we mentioned that our team resided in the nation’s capital, this random man said, “Oh, you like the Washington Rednecks.” My brother and I shook our heads, laughed it off and continued with our light-heartedly back and forth. But when I got home, I couldn’t seem to shake the fact that this man had called my beloved team the Rednecks. Rednecks. The term didn’t personally hurt my feelings but his statement served as a wake-up call. While the term redneck conjures up a number of images, the one I’m most familiar with is that of a rural, poor, white, Southern person who holds bigoted, ultra-conservative views. Growing up in the grand old South I had run into my (un)fair share of those kinds of “rednecks.” So when the gentlemen called my team the Rednecks, that’s what I saw; a bunch of racist white men flying burgundy and gold flags with pictures of Native Americans on them.
There I was a 31 year-old black, female attorney—one who dabbles in civil rights and tribal law and loads up computer screens with talk of injustice and equality on a fairly regular basis—proudly using a racially and culturally derogatory term in support of a football team. I had wrestled with the hypocrisy of the whole thing for a while, but I guess it took finding myself in a highly-conservative space while having a southern white male point out how utterly ridiculous the team’s name was for me to really come to my senses. I had to stop using the team’s name. While, as a lifelong fan, it will be an adjustment to no longer say or write the name, it’s an adjustment worth making. I can no longer make room in my vocabulary for a term that’s just so patently offensive.
Now, I’m not ready (nor am I promising to ever be ready) to stop supporting the team completely, but my support has to have better limits. First, and obviously, no more disparaging name for me. I won’t say it or write it. Second, because my Mama and Daddy taught me about the power of the black dollar, no more coinage to support that disparaging name. That’s right, I’m telling the DC organization like Calvin told his lady about WacArnold’s, “You’re, cut off!” No more of my dollars will be spent on game tickets, jerseys or other memorabilia until Snyder changes the name. While my new stance might sound empowering, I’m no fool. I know that my personal stance is highly unlikely to make Danny boy budge. But my new position is less about hurting him and more about not taking part in hurting others.
If you think this all sounds admirable, I have to be honest; it’s going to be hard. The name evokes some great memories. Like the time my friend and I braved single digit temps to see RGIII, and the time I bought myself a ticket to sit alone in the middle of the Georgia Dome, surrounded by Falcons fans, while we lost. My memories are priceless, but not one of them compares to the feeling of having someone call you a derogatory name just because you look differently than they do. Trust me, I know exactly what that feels like. None of these memories compares to the years of colonized oppression that murdered millions of Natives and stripped them of their territory, culture and livelihood. And not one of these memories even comes close to the pain that must be experienced from seeing one’s heritage slandered in front of millions of people for the sake of the pigskin. But each time I use that word or buy a hat, I’m conjuring up and supporting those memories. Sitting in FedEx field and singing the fight song just don’t seem worth it.
Now some may try to derail my personal boycott with the comforting argument that many Natives don’t even find the term offensive. While that may or may not be true, the fact is that if it’s offensive to some, I really don’t need to be a part of it. The term n*gger or b*tch might not be offensive to every black person or every woman, but I certainly appreciate that people have collectively agreed that those words really shouldn’t be said, especially be those outside of those groups. I have no problem with giving Natives who are offended by the term that same amount of deference.
So as we approach our first game of the 2016 NFL regular season, I’ll be throwing my support behind Cousins, Garçon and Hall. I’ll be hoping that Kerrigan can get his hands on Aaron Rodgers and that Jackson gives me at least 1,000 years this season. But my support for a group of marginalized people will come first. My need, as a human and a racial and sexual minority, to show solidarity for the Natives who were here long before my ancestors; will trump my need to shout in unison, Hail to the Chiefs.