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Significant issue facing fight against Washington's NFL team

Former NFL referee Mike Carey #94 took a stance against the Washington D.C. NFL team
Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

The NFL season officially kicks off this Thursday with the Green Bay Packers visiting the 2013 NFL champion Seattle Seahawks. Most storylines during this NFL season will be about quarterback play, teams trying to reach the playoffs, and great performances from some of the world's greatest athletes. However, there remains a strong possibility that the outside noise revolving the controversial nickname of Washington D.C.'s NFL team will be heard at some point during the 2014 NFL season. Given the increasing attention given to the nickname in both ways, by owner Dan Snyder and fans in favor of the team's nickname and the growing opposition to the name by Native Americans and lawmakers and others, it almost guarantees that the Washington NFL team will be a story throughout the 2014 for more than the possible quarterback 'controversy' between Robert Griffin III and Kirk Cousins.

Over the summer, a number of sports figures have weighed in on their thoughts on the nickname including a revelation about the stance taken by former NFL referee Mike Carey that he asked to not work Washington Redskins games since 2006 because of the team's name. In describing why, Carey mentioned that "if you’re respectful of all human beings, you have to decide what you’re going to do and why you’re going to do it”. In addition to Carey's announcement, CBS NFL announcer Greg Gumbel said he hasn't said the nickname of Washington's team on the air for three years. “Just my personal choice. And would I feel any differently if I owned the team? I don’t know," Gumbel said. "But I do think that they have a PR gap to jump, and whether they will make that jump or not remains to be seen."

Despite the stances about the nickname taken by these notable men in sports, there remains a big impediment when it comes to many of the sports public about the use of the nickname and Native American nicknames in sports in general. The big obstacle is the thought by so many Americans that Native Americans are characters of the past. This notion is confirmed by the numbers of fans of sports teams with Native American nicknames who don 'redface' and dress as 'Indians'. At the beginning of the 2014 Major League Baseball season, an article in The New York Times detailed the exchange between a Cleveland Indians fan dressed as the Indians' racist mascot Chief Wahoo and Robert Roche, the executive director of the American Indian Education Center and a member of the Chiricahua Apache tribe.

Sports fans have been dressing as 'Indians' for decades so the notion of becoming a Native American through putting on costume is far from new. In fact, this year a couple of celebrities wore Native American headdresses or attire including music superstar Pharrell Williams and reality 'star' Khloé Kardashian and both received negative reaction for their decisions. It is difficult to blame them since Academy Award nominated actress Michelle Williams had done so a year later on the cover of AnOther Magazine.

Sadly, wearing 'Indian' costumes is a longtime habit for some Americans and this disturbing action takes place beyond Halloween. It becomes more difficult for some of the American public to see the humanity in our current Native American population when their culture gets reduced to costumes to be put on and taken off. The best way to describe why putting on 'Indian' costumes isn't okay is from the article condemning Williams' actions, "Donning the customary dress of a profession, like that of a cowboy, or a firefighter, or a police officer, is not comparable to wearing a hackneyed ‘Indian' costume because being Native is not an occupation. American Indians are an entire race of people. We are living, breathing, human beings, made up of hundreds of separate Tribal groups, each with their own history, culture, language, and often, land base. We're ‘Indian' all day, everyday, and we own our own likenesses. We're not extinct! Collectively, we number in the millions."

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