The Washington Redskins honored Navajo Code Talkers for their service during Monday night's game against the San Francisco 49ers as part of Washington's annual military appreciation game. (Washington Redskins)
Washington’s pro football team honored the Navajo Code Talkers of World II fame during a time out of its “Monday Night Football” game. The team said it was part of the NFL’s Salute to Service month as well as to Native American Heritage month. Not everyone was convinced that was the only reason.
“It does not take a code talker to crack this particular code,” columnist Dave Zirin wrote in The Nation. “Dan Snyder is on the wrong side of history.”
Snyder is the owner of the Washington franchise who famously said he will never change his team’s name: “NEVER — you can use caps.” That was for a story in USA TODAY Sports in May about Amanda Blackhorse, a Navajo who is suing to strip federal trademark protection from the word redskin, which she contends is a racial slur.
Navajo Code Talkers is the name for a select group of Marines in World War II who created an unbreakable code based on their complex Navajo language and it proved a key element in the success of the American war effort. “At a time when America’s best cryptographers were falling short,” the Washington team said on its website, “the Navajo Code Talkers were able to fashion the most ingenious code in military history.”
Monday’s brief ceremony honored members of the American Code Talkers Association and some wore Washington team jackets with military hats. They are American heroes worthy of honor, though some observers suggested the football team was using them to gain support for its position that the team name is not disparaging. Washingtonian called it “a publicity stunt more awkward than the Redskins’ failure to convert on fourth-and-two.”
Suzan Shown Harjo, who is Cheyenne and Muscogee, and who recruited Blackhorse to the federal trademark case, wrote in Indian Country Today: “In 21 years of litigation, the Washington franchise has not brought into court a single Native nation, organization or person to support its position.”
Pro golfer Notah Begay III is a Navajo who says of the Washington team name: “If you ask me, it is offensive,” Begay said on ESPN’s “Outside the Lines.” “And I think it’s just a very clear example of institutionalized degradation of an ethnic minority.”
The Oneida Indian Nation, which has been running radio ads opposing the team name in Washington and in the markets where the Washington team plays, is for the first time running ads in other markets. Ads in Baltimore and Detroit, to coincide with NFL games played on Thanksgiving, feature the voice of Oneida Nation representative Ray Halbritter: “Thanksgiving is a holiday emphasizing the ideals of inclusion and mutual respect, and is a time when we give thanks. We would like to express our appreciation to everyone who has spoken out about the important moral and civil rights issue of changing the Washington football team’s name.”