HOLMBERG: Easier to protest Redskins’ name than actually help Native Americans

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RICHMOND, Va. -- Man, they’ve got that NFL practice field in midtown Richmond looking sharp. Grass so smooth, pro golfers could putt on it.

And that Washington football team is going to be trotting out on it  in just a couple weeks.

Yup, they’ll still be called the Redskins, even though the name is being attacked on so many fronts, they should break out a new mascot: Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer.

Me, I’m kind of baffled why this controversy just keeps on repeating at full volume, like a Slayer record with a big skip in it.

Polls indicate a clear majority of Native Americans aren’t worked up about the name, and the good many see it as a badge of honor (although other publications say there are too few Native Americans in their sample to draw conclusions about their views as a group.)

And why not?

Way back then – 80 years ago for the ‘Skins - teams picked heroic nicknames that evoked strength, speed, spirit, fearsomeness, resolve and ultimately, admiration:  Patriots, Eagles, Bears, Lions, Cowboys, Redskins.

I watched one of the Redskins' playoff games with Chief Webster “Little Eagle” Custalow of the Mattaponi tribe before he died 10 years ago. He made that same point about the heroic stature of the name.  He loved the 'Skins.

Question now for all those white folks who feel so strongly about getting rid of the Redskins' name:

Are you engaged in anything that would really help Native Americans, such as federal recognition, combating the nation's highest suicide rate, intense poverty, among the  lowest life expectancy and shrunken reservation land so crappy is difficult to farm, for example?

Or do you just want to do that easy, tingly thing and protest a football team name that, if removed, would address exactly none of the issues above?

Hey, if you’re really concerned about Native American heritage, maybe you should move out of your home and give the land to its rightful owners.

Ok, I’m being ridiculous here. But maybe little substance over all the symbolism might actually help.

Go ahead, get mad. Then maybe spend a few minutes reading up on the issues that so many Native Americans face.

Here’s the column I wrote for the Times-Dispatch with my game-watching with Chief Little Eagle:


Richmond Times-Dispatch - Monday, January 13, 1992

Author: Mark Holmberg ; Staff writer

"Hot dog! Look at that!" cried Webster Custalow -- Chief Little Eagle -- as the Washington Redskins' front line crushed Detroit Lions quarterback Erik Kramer during yesterday's lopsided NFC championship game.

Custalow , the 79-year-old chief of the Mattaponi Indian Reservation here, roots for the Redskins because they, like his ancestors, are great and powerful.

"I glory in the Redskins for winning all those games," said Custalow , who wore red suspenders and an intricate medallion made up of turquoise, silver and animal bones while he watched the game on television.

"That's what Indians do -- they never give up. They always come back and win some kind of way."

Custalow won't be among the thousands of American Indians expected to protest the use of Indian nicknames and symbols during the Jan. 26 Super Bowl. That protest is adding to the brouhaha that drew national attention when the Atlanta Braves were fighting to win baseball's top honors last season.

Chief Little Eagle wishes he could attend the Super Bowl game, but not to protest.

"If I had the money, I'd dress up in my full regalia and go up there and urge them on. Yessiree . . . If they're going to use our name, I want them to keep on shining."

So he'll watch from his living room in the heart of one of the nation's oldest Indian reservations, focusing his mental energies on his favorite team. "My spirit is with them."

Earlier in the season the Redskins had fallen behind in a game. "I thought they were going to lose. So I prayed to let them get up and move out -- and they did. They won."

Inside the Mattaponi Indian Museum, George and Norman Custalow watched Gerald Riggs bulldoze his way over the left side for a second quarter touchdown.

Neither of the brothers was in the least bit upset that the Washington team has an Indian nickname.

But George "Great Warrior" Custalow hoped the Redskins would get stomped. "I'm for Buffalo." (The Buffalo Bills will face the Redskins in the Super Bowl.)

He also noted that teams with Indian names -- the Kansas City Chiefs, the Atlanta Braves, the Washington Redskins -- had excellent seasons.

"Seems like there's got to be something to it, doesn't it?"

The Detroit Lions had just scored their only touchdown when Lynn Curry opened the door to her cozy home nearby. She and her 13-year-old son, Scoots ("Little Bear"), were enjoying the game.

"I don't think it's demeaning in any way," she said of Washington's nickname.

In fact, she and her son like it.

"If they were losing, no one would be saying anything" about Indian nicknames."

Besides, "Our heritage is going down to the point where we need some recognition," said Mrs. Curry, who was named Falling Leaf at birth because "I was born in October. That was the first thing the chief saw when he opened his eyes."

A few hours earlier and about 15 miles away at the Pamunkey reservation, Grover Miles and his friend, Donald Dunn, were heading to Miles' house to watch the game. They were riding in Dunn's red `89 pickup, which had "Renegade" painted on the hood.

"I've been a Redskins fan all my life," Miles said. "Through thick and thin. Winning or losing."

Neither Miles nor Dunn was concerned about the Washington's team name. "It's not done in a malicious way," Miles said. "In one sense, it's something of an honor. Brave warriors. Winners. Teamwork."

William P. Miles, the chief of the Pamunkey tribe here, agrees. "It gives the Indians a certain amount of notoriety," he said as he drove around the peaceful 1,200-acre reservation where about 65 Pamunkey Indians live. "I don't see it as a bad thing."

He, like Mrs. Curry, found the timing of the Indian protests and complaints to be somewhat suspect. "I think it's a bit ironic . . . you didn't hear about it when they weren't winning."

Walter Hill -- "Running Bear" -- had another word for it. Hill, a 35- year-old electrician, had driven his son's Suzuki four-wheeler down to the Pamunkey River for a little pre-game fishing.

"It's stupid," he said bluntly. "I like the tomahawk chop!" (The tomahawk chop, used by Atlanta Braves fans, created quite a ruckus among some American Indian activists.)

But he's aware some Indians didn't like the chop.

"This Cherokee guy I know -- I'd go up to him and go `Chop! Chop!' " Hill laughed as he chopped his hand through the air.

His favorite team?

"The Redskins. They've got an Indian on their helmets."



  • Becky

    PC Rule by Over Rule, Ramrodding, Bulldozing, and Usurping Governance played out and performed on their stages in front of their lights, mikes, Media cameras. Has nothing to do with
    the Indians or they would have Stood Up for themselves. Has everything to do with
    Democratic PC Dictates, Dominance and Dominion of their Exclusive Way; to continually
    cause divide to conquer with their created chaos, turmoil and conflicts Domestically as well
    as World-Wide. Nobel Peace Prize Winner, my eye.

      • Becky

        Riiight. Never happen. Not while the loving, sweet, caring, kind and benevolent PC Troops
        march all over everyone else’s Rights to inflict/dictate their Correct-Mess. Sweet love oozing
        from the from the mouths of extraordinarily beautiful Norma Jean & Michele, exhibited.
        They are so, perfectly “Correct” and using their furnished party “talking points”.

      • Becky

        It’s those loving, caring Democrats, demonstrating, demonstratively, their created Uncivil Society,
        should Dominate and Dictate; disregarding and demeaning all others, while pretending to stand up
        for the special interest of the day, they only use and abuse solely for votes.

    • Becky

      Right along with history, the new era government has now taken over the dictionary, to manipulate,
      contort, and contrive their slanted misrepresentations, to suit their Agendas.

      • Linda

        This Becky is so crazy. I agree with the previous poster…… just write a book. All of your comments are drawn out & too long.

  • Ron Melancon

    Let’s just end this. Let’s call them ” The Redskins Potatoes”

    The logo can be a Redskin potato . If I was Dan Snyder I would do this. You can put a mean face on a ” redskin potato.

    Who is going to complain about that?

    • magilagorilla

      That would be fine. i don’t care what you call the stupid team as long as it’s not a racial slur. As long as eveyone is clear that we’re talking about a potato, and not a potato wearing a war bonnet.

    • Steve

      Logos don’t need to match names and often times don’t. Giants don’t have a pic if a Giant. Packers have a G, etc. Matter of fact, Packers stand for the Meat Packers of the Indian Meat Packing company that supplied the first uniforms. Packers for short. Redskins can be short for redskin potatoes. The Redskins already have a signature ‘R ‘ logo. Just put that on the helmet and be done with it. Washington Redskins forever. Zero affiliation with Native Americans.

    • Mo Fiscal conservatism

      There are plenty of historians and Native Americans who disagree with this theory. If I were you, I would educate myself as well.

    • Ken

      Proud to be Part Original American from Connecticut. Pride in heritage and Redskins including name. Its more than just a team.

  • B Addy

    Holmberg’s question to all the white folks is dead on the money. The feel good look at me tingle factor is all they are shooting for. The majority of native Americans don’t care , then why do these whiny white liberals think their opinion matters?

  • Daniel Beasley

    The lawyers are having a field day with this one, and they are going after every team with an Indian name. Before it’s over lawyers will try to have language copyrighted, so they can sue you if you speak at all.

  • Linda Maroney

    I agree with Mark. If a Native American told me he or she was offended I would support them but a football team named the Redskins is the least of their problems. They have not been treated fairly for centuries. We’re working to right the wrongs done to African Americans, let’s work on righting the wrongs done to Native Americans.

  • Jon

    I use to think Mark Holmberg was pretty nice but this is just really negative of him. To suggest people should give up huge portions of their live’s to show they truly care about Native Americans is childish. Maybe do an investigative report on something more important and not something so sensational.

  • Becky

    How or Why any American Indian would trust this government to “help” them beyond reason or
    logic. It’s also beyond belief that they can’t, won’t, refuse to Stand Up Publically before the
    nation to express themselves IF this is their major concern for their lives.

    • Ron Melancon

      Let’s end all of the. The new name for the team is “The Washington Redskins Potatoes”. Let’s stick the new logo over the old one

      A redskins potato with a mean face on it

  • Hollis Tunston

    great one mark. this could apply to any number of things people protest against. it might make you feel better to say your against something , but words are meaningless without actions. give the land back pale face of you want to help indians, don’t just arm chair protest the name of a football team, becuase it’s a safe wager that indians have face alot more hardships in the nation the the name of a football team

  • Will

    Would anyone here call a Native American a “Redskin”? I didn’t think so, and the name has to go. It is that simple. If you wouldn’t say it to their face, it shouldn’t be on a helmet.

  • Michael R. Vines (@RedskinYankee)

    They need to leave all Native American teams alone..I agree with him 100% all this white people who want to change a name then you give money to Native Americans are give back all that land you have..You rather erase a team than do what really counts..HTTR!

  • Mike

    Here’s the simple truth. The Redskins are not and have not for some time been a truly “private” company. They play in a league protected from the open market of competitors. Their name is (still) protected. They have well placed friends in the local, state, and federal governments. They take land and resources from Virginia and Maryland (but ironically at the moment, not DC) and offer very little in return. As a taxpayer, I have virtually no control over the fact that an increasing amount of local and state taxes go to the team. Because they insist on milking taxpayers hard earned money, their business as a multimillion corporation very much becomes my business as a taxpayer. I am in favor of anything that reduces their and the NFL’s value, and will hopefully get my tax money out of their coffers. If I want to support the team economically, I’ll go to a game or buy a jersey. They should not be entitled to use the government to extract anything more out of me. So, if and when they and the NFL decide to give up every last dime of corporate welfare and special protections, then I’ll shut up about their name. Until then, as a partial funder of their activates, its is just as much my business as it is their But as the owner said, that’s “NEVER” going to happen, so I guess I’ll never shut up about the name either.

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