According to ESPN’s Mike Wise, “No nation has stricter anti-racism laws in sports,” than Great Britain, “due in part to disturbing incidents encountered by black soccer players over the years, including having banana peels and monkey chants hurled at them during matches.”
And now, members of British Parliament are getting in on the fight for the NFL to pressure its Washington team to change its name ahead of its scheduled match-up against the Cincinnati Bengals at Wembley Stadium October 30, or, “at the minimum, send a different team to our country to represent the sport, one that does not promote a racial slur.”
Wise reported that Ruth Smeeth and Ian Austin were among members of Parliament who have met with the members of the Change the Mascot campaign. In a February 2 letter to NFL Commissioner Roger Goddell, the pair wrote that they “were shocked to learn the derivation of the term ‘R*dskin,’ pertaining as it does to the historic abuse of native Americans,” read the letter, a copy of which was obtained by ESPN. “The exportation of this racial slur to the UK this autumn, when the Washington team is due to play, directly contravenes the values that many in Britain have worked so hard to instill.”
“We’re quite clear that sport is a vehicle for cultural change and celebration of what’s best about society rather than hate and division,” Smeeth said in the interview with ESPN. “That’s why bringing in new racial slurs to Britain is unacceptable. This is not the way we would want Native Americans introduced to our country.”
Wembley Stadium, where NFL exhibition games in London are played, “has been at the forefront of anti-racism in sport in the UK,” according to a British newspaper. Among its official rules is a policy that prohibits “racial, homophobic or discriminatory abuse, chanting or harassment,” which officials argue are intrinsic with the team’s name.
British writer Jane Merrick said that after meeting with one of the same Change the Mascot officials who met with the members of Parliament, she, too was convinced of the horrific nature of the name:
Yesterday I met Ray Halbritter, the leader of the Oneida Indian Nation, a Native American tribe based in New York State, who told me the origins of the term “redskin”. I had assumed that it was a derogatory historical reference to skin colour, which would be bad enough, but Halbritter told me it refers to the scalps – red with blood – of Indians hunted for bounties in the 19th century.
A newspaper clipping from 1863 he showed me reads: “The State reward for dead Indians has been increased to $200 for every red-skin sent to Purgatory.” The R-word was shouted at Native Americans as they were dragged off their land.
Likewise, the BBC, as national broadcaster, has a responsibility to oppose racism and discrimination and, as it prepares to cover the Washington-Cincinnati game, must take a stand and refuse to use the name. The proud history of anti-racism in British sport must not be allowed to die on 30 October.
Washington football team owner Dan Snyder has contended that the team will “never” change its name, and the NFL has maintained that naming decisions are team decisions, not league decisions. ThinkProgress has previously reported that the NFL has financed the team’s legal battle to keep the trademark rights, which the U.S. Patent Office stripped in 2014.