Inside Lines: Arrows fly as President Obama wades into Redskins race row

 

The NFL teams who collide at Wembley today must think our form of football is locked in a battle against bigotry with the current flak flying around over alleged racism.

Yet it is a subject equally close to home across the Atlantic in American football, where one of the major preoccupations in Washington seems to be whether the Washington Redskins should be made to change their name to the Washington Native Americans. Protest groups have campaigned for years for the removal of the word Redskins, now considered a racial slur. But the team's owner, Dan Snyder, insists this will never happen. "The fans have no desire whatsoever to see the team name changed solely to succumb to political pressure," he says.

Polls among Native Americans show some ambivalence but there has been a noticeable surge in momentum, with President Obama saying he would change the name of his local team if he owned the Redskins.

The unofficial mascot of the team is actually an African-American, Zema Williams (aka Chief Zee), who has attended games since 1978 dressed in a "Red Indian" costume complete with feathered war bonnet and tomahawk. It is not unusual for other fans to turn up in similar guise.

The NFL's Kansas City Chiefs and baseball's Cleveland Indians and Atlanta Braves are also under fire for drawing on an Indian theme. Cleveland have been heavily criticised for their logo, one Chief Wahoo, as has the "Tomahawk Chop" hand gesture used by Atlanta Braves supporters.

As Hollywood hasn't dared make a proper cowboys and Indians film for decades because of the offence it might cause among the Native American minority, how long before the arrows fly in the direction of British rugby union's the Exeter Chiefs, whose younger fans adorn themselves in colourful Indian headdresses and whose logo is also an Indian chief? Meantime, the St Louis Cardinals are currently contesting baseball's World Series – presumably with the Pope's blessing.

Tyson to bend our ears

Sir Alex Ferguson is not the only fire-breathing heavyweight to have produced a biting biography. The former world boxing champion Mike Tyson, perhaps only marginally more menacing, reveals in his new book Undisputed Truth that he "wanted to kill" Evander Holyfield during their infamous scuffle in 1997 before settling for chomping on his ear. He says he was furious that Holyfield had head-butted him. "I was an undisciplined soldier. I lost my composure."

Tyson, who admits "I did a lot of bad things and I want to be forgiven", brings his one-man show to Britain next year. Doubtless he'll have the ear of the audience, and fight-fan Sir Alex.

Cooking up a storm

As grudge fights ago, an upcoming score-settling scrap in Manchester looks be a corker. It is one that will be decided not in the ring but on the taekwondo mat, where Aaron Cook, Britain's No 1, faces the man for whom he was jocked off a GB Olympic place. Lutalo Muhammad went on to win bronze but many believe Cook was destined for gold, not least Cook himself.

A bit of a maverick, Cook apparently was dropped because he bucked the system. Subsequently he has defected to the Isle of Man, whom he will represent in the Commonwealth Games. Both have been selected at under 80kg for the grand prix event in December.

Walking the plank

New sports minister Helen Grant has swiftly picked up the cudgel from predecessor Hugh Robertson in her dealings with football's fractious governing bodies. Robertson himself now has the Middle East and piracy in his Foreign Office portfolio. At least he has put in some handy training in his run-ins with the FA and Premier League.

a.hubbard@independent.co.uk

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