Many sports fans might be pleased with the Washington Redskins' Super Bowl performance last weekend, but some are not so pleased with the team's name. Led by Washington business consultant Chris Burke, a group of Redskins fans are working to influence a change in the team's name by petition and publicity.
``The team itself is a great Washington institution. [But] its name is offensive and derogatory,'' he says.
So Fans Against Indian Racism - whose approximately 50 members are not American Indians - has written to Redskins management and flown banners over the playoff and Super Bowl games to publicize its concern. ``We are offering to raise $1,000 for a `new name' contest,'' Mr. Burke says.
The group's efforts are being echoed as far away as Minneapolis, where activists - Concerned American Indian Parents - are working for similar change.
With the help of a jarring poster and the support of the National Conference of Christians and Jews, the group of parents has already persuaded a Minneapolis school to change its team name from Indians to Lakers.
Organizer Phil St. John says the group's goal is to put a resolution before all Minnesota schools to keep American Indian names out of school sports. The parents then hope to establish an Indian education program to prevent stereotyping.
Mr. St. John, a Sioux Indian from South Dakota, says team names have a greater effect than one might think. ``Jack Kent Cooke says they use the name out of respect,'' he says, citing a letter he got from the Redskins owner. ``And maybe names like Braves or Warriors do [have positive connotations]. But the antics don't stop.''
He points to mascots and enthusiastic fans who dress as American Indians, whoop, dance, and wear war bonnets. ``The war bonnet has a special significance to American Indians - much like the crucifix to Catholics,'' St. John says. ``People wouldn't condone that kind of behavior if it was a crucifix being waved around.''
Efforts to reach a representative of the Redskins for comment on this story were unsuccessful.
Burke acknowledges that this is not the first time activists have worked to change Indian-related team names. Different groups have raised the issue periodically, particularly in the mid-1970s, when several college teams were persuaded to choose different titles.
But Burke suggests those movements did not last, ``because of a lack of effective, strategic organization. We intend to work behind the scenes in a quiet, professional way.'' He says his group's efforts of the past six months have drawn the interest of several congressmen and the support of the National Congress of American Indians.
``This may not be an earth-shaking issue,'' he says, ``but it's an embarrassing and, at times, disgusting display of ignorance, and we intend to change it.''