From the Archives: August 1998

A GROUP of Native Americans appeared before the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board to argue that “Redskins,” the name of Washington, D.C.’s football team, is racist and not deserving of federal trademark protection. Federal law states that a company name may not be “scandalous” or “disparaging.” ...

Offering an opinion is Chief Billy Redwing Tayac of the Piscataway Indian Nation, a Native American people who have been in the Washington area for roughly 10,000 years longer than the football team.

“‘Redskins’ is a racial slur,” Chief Tayac said. “The term has only continued to be acceptable because native people have been decimated and don’t have the political or economic clout to stop it. One only has to look at the origin of the term ‘redskins’ to see that it is not neutral. When [Europeans] first came to our country, a bounty was offered on Indians, and the dead were brought in by the wagonload. But that got to be a problem, so they started asking for just the scalps of Indians. Just like the hide of a deer is called a ‘deerskin,’ and the hide of a beaver is called a ‘beaverskin,’ the scalp of an Indian was called a ‘redskin.’

“People want to see us riding horses and living in tepees, but Indians are modern people and we want the same respect that has been applied to other peoples. We are men and women—not animals.” 

Aaron McCarroll Gallegos was assistant editor of Sojourners when this article appeared.

Image: FedEx Field, Anders Brownworth / Shutterstock

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How Soccer Differs from the World of Partisan Politics

Brazil fans watch World Cup quarterfinal at the São Paulo Fan Fest - Brazil v Colombia on July 4, 2014. ©Ben Tavener via Flickr.

After the final whistle ended a hard-fought World Cup match, Brazilian star David Luiz consoled Colombian star James Rodriguez.

They exchanged jerseys to show their mutual respect, and Luiz held Rodriguez close as the losing player wept in frustration.

This poignant moment was much more inspiring than a string of fouls, some intentional, that sent Brazil’s Neymar to the hospital and left players on both sides shouting in agony.

During play, soccer seems eerily like the world outside: opposing forces collide, do anything to gain advantage, bamboozle the game’s referees, shout in mock pain and real pain, challenge joints and muscles beyond their capacity, give everything for their nation’s cause — all while spectators whoop and holler in the safety of the stands.

How a Gay Football Player Could Help Redeem the Church

Mizzou tweets support for Michael Sam, via Twitter

Mizzou tweets support for Michael Sam, via Twitter

There’s something about Michael Sam that we are missing and I hope the church will see it.

Michael Sam is the college football star who “came out” in an interview with ESPN and the New York Times . He graduated in December and will be drafted in the upcoming NFL draft. Sam was the Southeastern Conference’s co-defensive player of the year and a first-team all-American. He came out to his teammates before the season started and at the end of the year they voted him their most valuable player.

But it’s not his superior football skills that the church should pay attention to. It’s his spirit and his sense of identity.

Throughout his interview on ESPN with Chris Connely, Sam smiles, clearly comfortable in his own skin. A few highlights of the conversation that are worth pointing out:

Where Are the Referees?

Referee on the field, Peter Kim /

Referee on the field, Peter Kim /

First, without referees (judges, umpires, arbiters, monitors), much of life would be a chaotic ordeal dominated by cheats, bullies, and dirty players. That’s why dictators refuse to allow election monitors, corrupt politicians defame the media who report their corruption, and bankers lobby incessantly against regulators.

Second, even with referees, action moves too fast for certainty. In baseball, even the most skilled umpires miss calls at first and enforce idiosyncratic strike zones.

Third, even-handed justice requires trust in the referee and a belief that missed calls tend to even out over time. If the referee is a cheat — as happens frequently when regulators get paid off by the regulated — trust in the game vanishes, and no one feels safe.

Fans Rely on God, Rituals to Boost Favorite Team

Supernatural Super Bowl infographic courtesy of Public Religion Research Institute. Via RNS

Most Americans don’t think God or the devil will be picking the NFL playoff winners this weekend or any other sports champions. 

But some will pray nonetheless, and a few will “religiously” perform little game-day rituals just in case.

survey by Public Religion Research Institute, released Thursday, probes the crossover between team spirit and spirituality.

Most Americans (60 percent) call themselves fans of a particular team. Among this group, several will do a little dance or say a little prayer to help the team along:

  • 21 percent (including one in four football fans) will wear special clothes or do special rituals. Donning a team jersey leads the way (66 percent). But some admit they get a little funky with their underwear. One fan wears dirty undershorts on top of his jeans.  (No word if these are boxers or briefs.)
  • 25 percent (including 31 percent of football fans) have sometimes felt their team has been cursed. (No word on how many are Red Sox fans.)
  • 26 percent (including one in three football fans) say they pray to God to help their team. White evangelicals are most likely to lean on the Lord on this: 38 percent will pray, more than any other religious group.
  • Football fans are also more likely than other fans to admit praying for their team (33 percent to 21 percent), performing pre-game or game-time rituals (25 percent to 18 percent), or to believe that their team has been cursed (31 percent to 18 percent).

Go Long, for Life

As in football, go for the long ball in life. Bikeriderlondon/Shutterstoc

As in football, go for the long ball in life. Bikeriderlondon/Shutterstock

In football, if the defensive players have no fear of your going long, they stack up against you and the shorter plays become incredibly hard and frustrating. It's as if the defense can predict what you're going to do and outnumber you. 
Many people live their lives, and some nonprofits run their organizations, this way —never going for the long ball. 

Brazilians and Football: From Passion to Protest

Brazilian riots, photo by Francisco Neto /

Brazilian riots, photo by Francisco Neto /

Brazil and the World Cup are in the news now, but not in the way that pleases the Brazilian government. Crowds are gathering in the streets around football (soccer) stadiums where Confederation Cup games are being played but not to buy tickets or get autographs of their sports idols. They are congregating to protest against the 2014 World Cup coming to Brazil. Brazilians protesting football? Upset about hosting the World Cup? Something has gone seriously wrong. This is like the French boycotting wine or Italians accusing pasta of undermining family values.

Even Americans, confused as we are about why the rest of world insists on calling soccer “football,” know that the outcome of a football match can launch an entire nation into elation or despair. But no matter the sport, fans around the world follow the same emotional pattern: they are up when their team is up and down when they are down. World Cup championships played out on a global stage provide the winning nation with an outsized cathartic event for the pent up frustrations that accumulate with the stress and strains of daily life. And even without streets clogged with protestors, if you are a football fan living in one of Brazil’s major cities, the typical daily grind is almost unbearable. Here’s an account from an Al Jazeera reporter who lives in Brazil:

It is 8am and a bunch of people line up to get on a bus on Faria Lima Avenue in Sao Paulo. This may be their third transfer in the daily ordeal of travelling to work from the outskirts of Sao Paulo. When the bus slows down, people start to nudge right or left, hoping not to be left behind. Once they get on, it is so full that finding a little space to stand is only for the truly crafty. 

After a one-hour journey through the infamous Sao Paulo traffic and pothole-ridden roads, crammed in with 100-plus people, it feels more like a ride on a rodeo horse than a means of transportation — all at a cost of 3.20 Brazilian Reals ($1.50) and your dignity. 

Welcome to New England, Tim

Photo Courtesy RNS/Wikipedia

Tim Tebow taking a knee. Photo Courtesy RNS/Wikipedia

Now that you’re joining the Patriots, I’d like to offer you a few pointers on your new regional home. I realize that, to someone from the deep South, this may seem like just another part of Yankeedom, but New England is really a different place than New York. And given what happened in the Big Apple last year, I’m sure that’s good news, and the less said about it the better.

Anyway, New England is a great place to get a graduate degree, and you could not find a better institution than the U. of Foxboro to do advanced work in the liberal art of playing quarterback, under the tutelage of Prof. Brady. A dissertation on passing might be a good idea.

Aside from football, New England has a lot of variety of the human experience: steady habits in Connecticut, socialists in Vermont, cranky individualists in New Hampshire, a Tea Party governor in Maine, a Republican-turned-Independent-turned Democratic governor in Rhode Island, an African-American governor in Massachusetts. But wherever you go in this fair territory, same-sex couples can get married. That’s how we roll.