Sport has got to be one of the most unifying forces on the planet. It has a unique ability to break down barriers and unite diverse nations, races and religions in the pursuit of competition and sporting achievement.
The 2015 Rugby World Cup, held in England and Wales, saw proud fans of competing nations cheer their side on with all the passion that you’d expect. But, equally, supporters of all the different countries came together to unite in their admiration for the ‘game’ and the quality and spectacle of the tournament. In America, millions came together in early February to root for the Denver Broncos or the Carolina Panthers, or just to celebrate two of the best teams in American football compete during Super Bowl 50. The same might be said of other international sporting events, not least the Olympic Games, where we applaud our own, but respect the excellence of our opponents.
Fundamentally, this is about having respect – for yourself and for everyone else. In recent years, campaigns like Kick It Out, Show Racism the Red Card and Say No to Racism have made huge progress in making sport an inclusive, tolerant and welcoming place for fans and players alike.
In 2013, the House of Commons in the British Parliament voted for a resolution that rightly condemned “all forms of racism and anti-Semitism in sport” and demanded that we adopt “a position of zero tolerance of racism”.
But this year, these hard-won standards in British sport are facing a return of derogatory and racist language when the Washington R*dskins play at London’s Wembley Stadium in October.
The Washington D.C. team, whose nickname denotes decades of persecution and violence against Native American peoples, and is defined as a racial slur in every major English dictionary, will compete in the 2016 National Football League (NFL) International Series.
This major sporting event will see the team’s disparaging and racist name widely publicized in the UK, bringing with it the tensions and offense that we have labored tirelessly for years to remove from sport.
So today, we are uniting as a Member of the British House of Commons and the United States House of Representatives to speak out against this offensive and racist language that has no place in our two great countries. Far from a harmless or “honorary” term, as the team’s management often falsely claim, the R-word is an ugly and outdated sign of division and hate that was used throughout history to insult and denigrate Native Americans.
It is the word for the object needed to collect a bounty—literally “red skins”—ripped from dead Native American bodies and exchanged for money as proof of kill, and it is a term that is still used to disparage Native Americans today.
Research shows that the continued promotion of this hateful term has serious health and psychological consequences for Native Americans.
The origins of the R-word in American Football are no less disgusting. The team was given its inglorious name by its first owner, George Preston Marshall, an avowed racial segregationist who also made sure that his team was the very last to integrate African American players.
As people have learned about the damage caused by the slur, opposition to its use has swelled in the US. Dozens of Native American tribes, civil rights groups, public health organizations, religious leaders, sporting icons, Members of Congress from both the Democratic and Republican parties, mayors, governors and even President Obama have all called for the offensive name to change.
If the NFL wants to be a respected global brand, then it should not be sending to London as ambassadors of sport this team represented by a racial slur.
Promoting a derogatory term that intentionally ignores and marginalizes the views of ethnic minorities reflects poorly on the League and all countries associated with it.
We need to show that, as sporting fans, we will not stand for this racism. We need to apply our standards to the NFL’s International Series. Indeed, it is written into Wembley’s rulebook that the use of racial slurs and the chanting of them at events is strictly prohibited.
The British Football Association, which has campaigned strongly against racism in sport, has said that offensive terms, which in this case is actually the team’s name, are prohibited even when those using it insist they are promoting such terms in a positive manner.
Put simply, it’s time to move on. When the teams walk out onto the iconic Wembley pitch in October, let’s unite to cheer on the players and celebrate the sport. But let’s consign the racist name to where it belongs: the dustbin – or trashcan – of history.
McCollum has represented Minnesota’s 4th Congressional District since 2001 She sits on the Appropriations Committee and is co-chair of the Congressional Native American Caucus. Dugher is a member of the UK House of Commons and of the Labor Party. He is a former Shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport.