Cherokee U.S. Rep. Yvette Herrell, Redskins cheerleader?
Legislator's staff sometimes shields her from Indigenous-focused questions. Why?
WASHINGTON — Picture it. Washington, D.C., the day after the Washington NFL football team changed its name from a temporary, nondescript placeholder, “the Washington Football Team,” to its current moniker, The Commanders (which T-Bone and Heather do not like).
It was Feb. 3, 2022, a chilly winter day with hints of rain in the nation’s capital, and the U.S. House Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy was holding a roundtable hearing, titled, “Examining the Washington Football Team’s Toxic Workplace Culture.”
Former cheerleaders testified that they had been sexually harrassed. Team employees said they had been treated in racist manners. Some said that Dan Synder, the owner of the team, as well as others higher up in the organization, fostered — and in some cases participated in — varying degrees of financial abuse.
“This is a sordid tale about power, greed and money,” said U.S. Rep. Gerry Connelly (D-VA) after one loud outburst during the contentious, partisan hearing. “We saw the name change yesterday, but until this pervasive culture of abuse and impunity ends, it’s nothing more than lipstick on a pig.”
D.C. was in a quagmire. Nothing much has changed in the ensuing months.
As ongoing scandals consume the team, Politico highlighted snippets of the hearing today (misquoting some of it), while calling out some of Herrell’s comments therein.
Herrell, the first GOP Native woman elected to the House, in 2020, thought the hearing was “a farce” (as did many of her GOP colleagues). She got in a couple of good zingers, lambasting a testifier as having tweeted potentially racist (Mexican “alcoholics”) and sexist (“whore” cheerleaders) things, and then asking why the Dems were calling this person to the stand to criticize the team’s business.
“The roundtable is ridiculous, and it is an abuse of power,” Herrell said, adding that she is personally against sexual harrassment and presumes that the Redskins business was probably an “awful” environment in which to work.
“It is turning into a Joe McCarthy commission, and we should not do that,” she said.
Herrell also implied that the testifying cheerleaders couldn’t be trusted, as 10 years had passed, and they had apparently been happy in the past to work for the team and had encouraged others to do so.
“One of the witnesses on the panel even said, back then, ‘I will always be a Redskin; I am leaving with a smile on my face….’” the lawmaker said.
Herrell had done her Redskins research, as had her her spokesman Billy Gribbin, who is proud of his past work as a speechwriter for President Donald Trump.
Fast forward to today — another moist day in D.C., which finds itself under a tornado watch — and, as a result of the Politico piece, some people are now trying to nail down Herrell’s own positions on the team formerly known as Redskins.
The thinking goes: Herrell is a citizen of the Cherokee Nation. Many Native Americans thought the dictionary-defined racial slur of the team was wrong for decades, and many have celebrated its removal.
So where did Herrell stand on the name?
A one-term Congress member, Herrell is up for re-election this year, and she is one of the legislators that re-districting could affect, effectively changing her seat from red to blue. U.S. Rep. Sharice Davids (D-KS), a citizen of the Ho-Chunk Nation, is in a similar position in her state, yet in the opposite political direction.
Herrell will likely need every Native vote she can get, if she is to overcome the re-districting challenges. If any Natives think her Redskins positioning is important, she might want to get in front of that issue, according to some D.C.-based observers.
Few think her support — or non-support — of the Redskins will be the deciding factor, of course, but it does provide a signal to Indigenous voters on where she stands on their issues.
In recent days, Herrell has stepped up her work on behalf of Natives, meeting with tribal officials and announcing support for bipartsian tribal water legislation, appearing alongside her Democratic colleagues. She’s a strong believer in Indigenous economic empowerment, too.
But there is a perception that some people on her leadership team sometimes hold Herrell back from going “fully Native” in her messaging, if she is ever inclined to do so.
Spokesman Gribbin, for one, doesn’t tend to respond to questions regarding her Native-focused positions. Beyond general economic issues, he doesn’t appear to feel Herrell is best served by talking much about “Indian stuff,” peers have said.
To test that theory, we sent Gribbin the following questions today:
Hope you are well. Was Rep. Herrell a fan of the former Washington, D.C. NFL football team name? I am asking because I am writing about her thoughts during the recent Dan Synder-focused hearing and want to know whether she thought the Redskins debate was a worthy one. Several other Native Congress members denounced the name, but I'm not sure she did. If she did not, why? If she did, please let me know, so I can be fully accurate. I look forward to hearing from you.
No word from Gribbin yet, but we’ll let you know if we hear back.
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