Dem: Redskins a ‘Hateful Mascot’ - ‘Racism and Hate Speech’ a Priority in Congress

By Penny Starr | July 24, 2014 | 5:57 PM EDT

Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.) spoke at the Center for American Progress in Washington, D.C., on July 22, 2014. ( Starr)

( – Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.) said at an event on Tuesday at the liberal Center for American Progress that ‘racism and hate speech” are always a priority in Congress, including as it relates to the campaign to change the name of the Washington Redskins.

“Racism and hate speech is always a priority if we’re going to be the shining beacon of democracy and respect and opportunity that we aspire to in all of our founding documents,” McCollum said when asked whether the Redskins controversy should be a priority given all of the issues facing lawmakers.

In her remarks at CAP, McCollum said when she came to the Capitol in 2001, she became aware of the “harmful stereotype” the Redskins mascot represented.

“It made me realize that people didn’t know what they were doing – that they needed an opportunity to find out what this hateful mascot really was, because they didn’t know,” McCollum said.

McCollum spoke at CAP at an event to release a study done by the center entitled “Missing the Point; The Real Impact of Native Mascots and Team Names on American Indian and Alaska Native Youth.”

“Research shows that these team names and mascots can establish an unwelcome and hostile learning environment for AI/AN students,” the study summary states. “It also reveals that the presence of AI/AN mascots directly results in lower self-esteem and mental health for AI/AN adolescents and young adults.”

During her remarks, McCollum said she headed a protest last year against a football game between the Minnesota Vikings and the Washington Redskins scheduled for Nov 7, 2013. McCollum published an open letter on Nov. 3 addressed to the state’s governor, attorney general and the Minneapolis City Council.

“The NFL and the owner of Washington’s football team have a right to free speech,” McCollum wrote. “Constitutional protections allow them to offend, degrade, and disparage any race, ethnic group, religion, or person of sexual orientation with their private funds within private spaces.

“But the people of Minnesota do not have an obligation to open the doors of our public sports facility and allow a for-profit entity to display and promote their racial slur,” the letter stated.

“Indeed, we have an obligation to stand against the harmful denigration of protected classes of people in our public spaces, particularly when that demeaning language and imagery is targeted at a group that suffers from the highest rates of hate crimes and suicides in our nation,” the letter stated.

“As responsible and committed Minnesota leaders, I would urge you to take action to ensure that on November 7 the Metrodome remains a public venue where all Minnesotans, especially Native Americans, can work, watch, and enjoy a Vikings football game without a hostile, degrading, and offensive slur inflicted upon them,” it added.

McCollum said the game went on as scheduled, but the conversation has “grown.”

McCollum did not express concern for Minnesota’s use of the Vikings as their mascot even if the sea-faring Norsemen do not have a reputation for kindness and tolerance.

In a 2005 interview with archeologist William Fitzhugh on Public Broadcasting Service’s NOVA website, Fitzhugh was asked: Did [Vikings] kill a lot of people in their various raids?

“In many cases they did,” Fitzhugh said. “I think they were relatively ruthless, but remember, this was a ruthless age with far more than just peaceful farmers living peaceful lives.

“All sorts of things were going on in the British Isles and mainland Europe, including constant battles between rival princes vying for kingship and control of local regions,” Fitzhugh said.

“The Vikings were just another crowd, though a crowd that was non-Christian and had no compunction about killing churchmen or women or children,” Fitzhugh said.

The CAP report includes recommendations for local, state and federal agencies, including calling on the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights to “use its full authority to enforce civil rights protections for AI/AN students” and federal and private funding for “new research on the impact of derogatory AI/AN representations in schools.”