3,000 protest Washington team’s name at TCF Bank Stadium

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Hundreds of protesters remained outside the University of Minnesota’s TCF Bank Stadium on Sunday afternoon as the Minnesota Vikings and Washington Redskins game kicked off.

After hours of marching and chanting, the protest had quieted by game time, as most demonstrators listened to speeches outside the stadium from local and American Indian officials.

Minnesota faces Washington after months of controversy over the visiting team’s name, which many have called demeaning and offensive to American Indians.

The protest marked the largest-ever demonstration against Washington’s name and mascot, said David Glass, president of the National Coalition Against Racism in Sports and Media. He pointed to the large American Indian presence in Minnesota as a reason for the protest’s scale.

American Indians from states including Wisconsin, Arizona and North Dakota bused in for Sunday’s protest, organizers said. More than two dozen groups of American Indians and activists were in attendance.

Several Minneapolis and University-based groups protested the name, and scores of demonstrators crossed the University’s campus to converge at TCF Bank Stadium.

University and Minneapolis police departments stationed at least two dozen officers outside the stadium, officials said. The demonstration remained peaceful as of game time.

University police have dealt with events of this size before, said Lt. Troy Buhta, adding that events hosted at Northrop Mall have been comparable to the protest at the stadium.

The gathering drew local and federal government officials, who joined the protesters’ calls for action.

“The name is a racial epithet,” Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges said after speaking to protesters from a University-provided stage. “There’s no room for that in the 21st century anywhere, let alone on a public stage and platform like the NFL.”

The Washington team has argued the name honors American Indians. But Robert Lilligren, President and CEO of Little Earth of United Tribes, said that idea doesn’t hold weight.

“To hold it up as anything we should be proud of or should celebrate is really false,” the former Minneapolis City Council member said, “and the community’s voice has been saying this for a long time.”

Name controversy continues

Controversy over whether Washington’s name should be allowed at the University has persisted for months.

The Vikings pay the University about $300,000 per game to use TCF Bank Stadium. The Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community donated $10 million for the stadium’s construction, the largest gift Gopher athletics had ever received at the time.

U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn., sent a letter to Vikings owner Zygi Wilf and President Eric Kaler in June, asking them to speak out against the “racist” name, which she said violates University policy.

In an August letter to McCollum, Kaler condemned the name and said he wanted to eliminate the use of the logo and name on all game-day material.

But University and city officials weighed in on the controversy in recent weeks, saying they don’t have the legal authority to ban the team’s name from the stadium.

The University sponsored educational programming on American Indian issues during the week leading up to the game, and University Services provided a stage for protesters outside the stadium and helped organize the march from Northrop Auditorium.

After the protest, Vice President for Equity and Diversity Katrice Albert voiced the University’s disappointment with the NFL for allowing the team to keep its name.

She said the school partnered with the National Coalition Against Racism in Sports and Media, the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe and several other organizations to facilitate the rally.

“Sports logos and names that are offensive to oppressed communities need to be changed. Our role at the University is to promote an opportunity for dialogue and appreciation,” she said. “The University wants to be on the right side of the issue.”

While thousands of protesters decried the nickname throughout the day, some game-goers and passersby were confused about the commotion.

Three groups of protesters converged at the Tribal Nations Plaza outside the stadium hours before kickoff, drawing puzzled looks from fans filing into the game.

Eric Lohman, 25, one of the Vikings fans passing through the demonstration, said he supports both the protesters and the NFL teams.

“The players aren’t the ones who choose the names of the team,” he said, adding that some might not consider the Vikings’ name to be politically correct.

Lauren Johnson, who sported the Washington team’s apparel and burgundy and gold colors on Sunday, said she drove eight hours from Winnipeg, Canada, to see the game.

While Johnson said she respects the protesters’ purpose, she doesn’t think the name needs to change.

“When they named the team, they weren’t doing it to be derogatory — it [connoted] power … warriors, and fighters,” she said as demonstrators chanted for a name change yards away. “It’s just part of the history and the team.”

Washington team owner Daniel Snyder has faced repeated calls to change the team’s name.

But Tony Cansler, a Washington fan of more than 40 years, said he doesn’t feel the name is derogatory.

“I don’t understand why the folks here aren’t proud of the name,” he said. “Why would you want to change it?”

But the protests were personal for many in attendance.

Chuck Norcross of Champlin, Minn., said people called him “redskin” when he was growing up.

“Even as a little kid growing up, I knew the name was not a very good name,” he said. “So I think [the team] should be renamed. In my lifetime, I hope to see it.”

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