The Minneapolis City Council took a pair of steps Friday to try to stop the use of the “Redskins” nickname when the NFL team from Washington, D.C. plays the Vikings at the University of Minnesota later this season.
One of the moves was symbolic: The council passed a resolution asking the team to change “the racist, offensive name of the Washington, D.C. football franchise.”
The other was more substantive: It directed the city attorney to research whether the city has legal authority under its civil rights law to enforce a ban on the use of the name and the team logo in TCF Bank Stadium on scoreboards, uniforms and other displays. The game is scheduled for Nov. 2.
Both passed unanimously and without comment.
The direction to the city attorney came a week after members of the Public Safety, Civil Rights and Emergency Management Committee heard from members of the National Coalition Against Racism in Sports and Media, who asked the city to take action.
The organization wants “to build some pride so we can take our children to a Vikings game or a Twins game when they are playing the Cleveland Indians,” said the coalition’s Clyde Bellecourt. He noted that the Washington team nickname is insulting and racist, and refers to the taking of evidence by whites to prove that they had killed Native Americans and claim bounties.
David Glass, an NCARSM board member, asked that the city seek restraining orders against any league or team that attempts to bring mascots or nicknames that use derogatory Native American terms or images. Glass also asked that the city change its procurement policies to stop buying goods and services from companies that use names and images that are offensive to Native Americans.
Larry Leventhal, an attorney with the organization, asked the city to declare that any such names and images are not welcome, and to announce that it would take legal action to block them. “Of course we are thinking very immediately of November 2 when the Washington club calling themselves ‘Redskins’ comes to Minneapolis and would be performing and playing at the University of Minnesota,” he said.
Deputy City Attorney Peter Ginder said the staff would look at the legal issues, but also said the First Amendment issues might keep the city from succeeding in any attempt to restrain the league.
“There are significant speech concerns raised by the proposed action that was raised here today. So that would be the fundamental framework we would look at this under,” Ginder said. “As you are aware, content-based regulation is generally prohibited under the First Amendment.”
University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler has also condemned the nickname and mascot, and has asked that it not be used in the stadium. But the university also has said it does not have legal standing to block the use by private parties who are leasing a university facility.
On Friday, the U of M announced a series of education events related to the issue beginning Oct. 24. “We’re a land-grant university, and we have 11 federally designated tribes in our state,” said Katrice Albert, vice president for Equity and Diversity, in a conference call. “We have an obligation to do that education and do that awareness raising in the community.”
The university is also is in discussion with student and faculty groups, as well as the National Coalition Against Racism in Sports and Media, about holding a rally on the day of the game, she said.
“We’re in conversations to make sure there is infrastructure to have a rally to protest the name,” said Albert, who also said the university is still talking to the Vikings about the request to not have the name and logos displayed.
“We have not gotten final answers to that request,” she said.