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Navajo leaders take back idea of ‘Code Talkers’ as Washington NFL name

In this Oct. 24, 2019, file photo, Native American leaders protest against the Redskins team name outside U.S. Bank Stadium before an NFL football game between the Minnesota Vikings and the Washington Redskins in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Bruce Kluckhohn, File)

The Navajo Nation president and vice president in a letter thanked those in Indigenous communities who fought for the NFL’s Washington franchise to drop its “Redskins” name, a move that was officially announced Monday.

“This change did not come about willingly by the team’s owners, but by the mounting pressure and advocacy of Indigenous peoples such as Amanda Blackhorse, and many other warriors who fought long and hard for this change,” read the statement from Navajo Nation president Jonathan Nez and vice president Myron Lizer.

“For generations, this team name and logo has misrepresented the true history and events that define the term ‘redskins.'”

Blackhorse, who is Navajo and lives in Arizona, is the lead plaintiff in Blackhorse vs. Pro Football, Inc., which sought to revoke trademarks for the Redskins name.

The Navajo Nation strongly encouraged the Washington team to rename the franchise to honor Indigenous people as the “Code Talkers” in that earlier statement, only to later withdraw that suggestion after negative feedback within the community.

“The Navajo Nation, under this administration, will not pursue the renaming of the Washington NFL team after the Code Talkers. I strongly agree that our Indigenous people should not be used as mascots,” the updated statement read.

A new name must still be selected for one of the oldest and most storied teams in the NFL, and it was unclear how soon that will happen. But for now, arguably the most polarizing name in North American professional sports is gone at a time of reckoning over racial injustice, iconography and racism in the U.S.

The decision to rename the squad came less than two weeks after owner Dan Snyder, a boyhood fan of the team who once declared he would never get rid of the name, launched a “thorough review” amid pressure from sponsors. FedEx, Nike, Pepsi and Bank of America all lined up against the name, which was given to the franchise in 1933 when the team was still based in Boston.

Nez and Lizer, in their letter on behalf of the Navajo Nation, explained that the nickname was given by bounty hunters who killed Indigenous people, selling their bloodied scalps at market.

“This is the tragic and disgusting history that the world is not often told,” it read.

Native American advocates and experts have long criticized the name they call a “dictionary-defined racial slur.” Over a dozen Native leaders and organizations wrote to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell last week demanding an immediate end to Washington’s use of the name. Goodell, who has fielded questions on the topic for years, said he supported the review.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.


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