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How #NotYourMascot Super Bowl Twitter Storm Happened--Play by Play

Native Seahawks fans (and one Broncos fan) enjoying the Super Bowl without Redface & cultural appropriation!

In an interview on a radio show in September, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said “I know the team name is part of their history and tradition, and that’s something that’s important to the Redsk*ns fans. I think what we have to do though is we have to listen. If one person is offended, we have to listen.”

Well, this past weekend the hashtag #NotYourMascot created by our group, Eradicating Offensive Native Mascotry, was tweeted 18,000 times during the Super Bowl with many of these tweets addressed to Goodell himself via his twitter account @nflcommish. I had come up with the hashtag only the week before as our previous hashtag #Changethename had been taken over by spammers from India (ironic, I know) and was being used to sell things like real estate.

Some of the tweets criticized Goodell’s comments at a pre game press conference claiming the term Redsk*ns honors Native Americans. Despite this assertion, Goodell refused to answer when asked if he “would call a [Native American] a Redsk*n to his face?” throwing doubt on whether it was an honor or simply a Jim Crow-era artifact a few are unwilling to give up. The latest study of the team’s fans found only 25% would be bothered by a name change.

Initially, some of our allies like Fans For a New Tradition (fans who support a name change) couldn’t understand why we would be tweeting during the Super Bowl. After all, the Redsk*ns weren’t playing in it and haven’t played in the Super Bowl since 1992. The team is said to suffer under the “Harjo Curse” named after Suzan Harjo (Muscogee Creek), a long-time advocate for changing the name. We explained it was to keep the pressure on the owner Daniel Snyder, but I was also inspired by the images that were showing up in my social media feed of Native people enthusiastically supporting their teams and sharing their culture as an expression of that support on their own terms.

And not just images of Native fans on Facebook decked out in their team’s gear, but also there was the Quinault/Chinook wood carver who made a dancing Seahawk inspired by his heritage. I even bought my family t-shirts from Salish Style, a native-owned clothing company that made their own Seahawk gear featuring the logo done in traditional Northwest style. This willingness to share their culture stood in complete contrast to the taking of culture exemplified by the Redface donned by so many Redsk*ns fans.

As a Dakota, I am particularly offended by the wearing of chicken feather versions of our eagle feather headdresses and I blogged about it here: Washington Redsk*ns, Indian Mascotry & Owl Man and here at ICTM, Why We Still Mourn Wounded Knee. My ancestor Owl Man wore his headdress, given to him as a mark of honor, when he came to the White House in 1867. Our Dakota people did not fight so hard to survive so football fans could honor our “warrior spirit” by wearing our sacred headdresses to their sporting events while drinking beer.

After we decided on our new hashtag, we kept #NotYourMascot under wraps and shared it only within our social media circles through direct messaging and email. We wanted to make sure it was not co-opted by spammers, too.

Then, on Saturday night at 9pm Eastern, we unveiled it to the world. We were advised to do this by Suey Park a social media activist, and writer who had great success with her hashtag #NotYourAsianSidekick. It trended to number one nationally earlier this year and received a great deal of media coverage. Still, I was doubtful our hashtag could gain trend during the Super Bowl.

Then, a half an hour in, Suey Park sent me a screenshot of us trending nationally. I credit this to our allies in the Asian American and other people of color communities online. We had like-minded sports fans like Fans for a New Tradition and sports writer David Zirin. We had thousands of Native people who were tweeting their hearts out to make sure they were heard in a country where we so often are not.

When we were strategizing at our Facebook event page “ Super Bowl Twitter Storm” one of our members Sarah Little Redfeather Kalmanson (Ojibwe) mentioned the Declaration of Independence would be read out loud between 5:30-6pm. We decided to target our tweets at the moment when Thomas Jefferson’s description of our ancestors as “merciless Indian savages” was read. But we never heard the words—they had been edited out. It made me wonder why doesn’t the NFL simply edit out other offensive words like Redsk*ns? After all, the Declaration of Independence is of more historical significance than a football team.

And then, once again, #NotYourMascot trended during the Super Bowl, itself. According to an Al Jazeera article it was tweeted over 18,000 times. Many of our tweets linked to the NCAI Proud to Be ad and helped double its views to nearly one million on YouTube.

On Monday, Indian Country Today put together a wonderful article (“Not Your Mascot’ Trends on Twitter Over Super Bowl Weekend) featuring a photographic gallery of 37 #NotYourMascot tweets. What struck me as I scrolled through them was how diverse they all were. I loved how they reflected the individuality of each Native person who wrote them and yet, they were all saying the same thing: we are #NotYourMascot!

I also read wonderful blog posts by Native supporters of #NotYourMascot like Chahta Summer at Surviving SummerMost amazing to see was ‘NotYourMascot’ Anishinabe poetry by Anishinaabewiziwin. She wrote, “ooooo nokomis/cradled deep and low/anishinaabe super bowl/four billion years old/hiy! hiy!/#NotYourMascot”

So many Native people and our allies made this happen. Danielle Miller (Dakota) who put together an amazing list of tweets for people to use and Toby Vandlingham (Yurok) who put together meme after meme which he shared with all of us at his Facebook page I Am Not Your Mascot. Also, Apache Skateboards artist Douglas Miles and his amazing tweets combining his art and photography honoring his people. And so many others at EONM and many others via Twitter and Facebook. It has been honor to work with all of you! Social media is a lot like our people. Individuals matter, but it is what we do together that really matters.

Will NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell respond? Well, even if he doesn’t this time, we will keep up the pressure on him and Redsk*ns owner Dan Snyder. We are already planning our next Twitter Storm during the Oscars to protest the nomination of Lone Ranger for Redface makeup. We won’t stop until students stop dressing up in Redface and holding signs that say ‘Scalp ‘Em’ at the Rose Bowl and Snyder finally does the right thing; #ChangetheName and realize we are #NotYourMascot.  
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