‘A Breath of Fresh Air’

Don Wetzel sees frustration, hope in D.C. bid to reclaim Blackfeet chief logo from NFL

By 406mtsports.com
Don Wetzel Sr., shown outside his west Helena home, is determined to bring home the Blackfeet chief logo his father, Walter "Blackie" Wetzel, gave to the Washington Football Team in 1971.

Don Wetzel Sr. finally had another audience with the Washington Football Team last month in his bid to reclaim his father’s Blackfeet chief logo for his tribe, his new mission and his family.

To say the meeting was underwhelming for Wetzel and his caretaker, Marie Schell, is an understatement, though other aspects of their weeklong journey to Washington, D.C., to pursue the logo and the causes he wants it to represent also left him cautiously optimistic.

“Stonewalled,” was the term Wetzel used again for the umpteenth time since his family’s first attempts in 2014 to bring home the “beautiful Blackfeet Chief” logo given 50 years ago to what was then the Washington Redskins by his father, Walter “Blackie” Wetzel.

Don Wetzel, 73 and living in Helena, wanted to meet with Washington Football Team owner Daniel Snyder, but he never heard back. He also asked for an audience with club president Jason Wright, but no return communication there either.

Instead he was met in a makeshift meeting room at a construction site by Joe Maloney, the franchise’s vice president for public affairs, and a member of the club’s legal team. Schell said the pair listened while skimming through a lengthy biography about Blackie’s legacy drafted by Wetzel’s son Ryan.

“We weren’t treated very well,” Wetzel summarized. “They didn’t listen to much of what we brought out. We talked about the campaign we want to get started and, of course, getting the logo back.”

Schell said the only interest appeared to be in asking for background on Blackie because the franchise intends to honor him as part of the team’s 90-year anniversary celebration next season. She said they want to include an exhibit about Blackie and a logo that was the team’s face for a half-century, dating to when the former Blackfeet tribal chairman and president of the National Congress of American Indians gave owner Jack Kent Cooke a design of Chief Two Guns White Calf’s likeness in 1971.

As for the peaceful transfer of the logo?

Wetzel and Schell told Maloney they believe the logo is “Blackie’s intellectual property” and they’d like it signed over to the family so it can be used freely as the literal face of the Blackie Wetzel Warrior Society LLC. Wetzel’s mission is to repurpose the logo to call attention to domestic abuse and Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW), including installing purple crosses across Montana and eventually the country on reservation sites where Native women were abducted or murdered.

The logo Walter “Blackie” Wetzel gave to the then-Washington Redskins in 1971. | ASSOCIATED PRESS

The logo was decommissioned in 2016 and retired in June of this year as part of the franchise discarding its controversial “Redskins” nickname.

“I said it’s retired and not being used, so what if I had the intention right now to use it? Are you going to come after us?” Wetzel recalled asking. “They said, ‘No, we’re going to leave that to the NFL’. That was interesting. What’s real important is that what we got out of Joe’s meeting was the 90-year celebration thing.”

Wetzel said he has now written NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell about the logo; the Washington Football Team is declining further comment.

“That’s a possible future trip,” Schell said.

Where Wetzel also emerged with hope was from a meeting with Montana Sen. Steve Daines, who they said supported the purple cross campaign and acknowledged the need for action on Montana’s reservations. Daines’ staff subsequently distributed a press release from the meeting and included a photo of the junior senator with Wetzel.

The release acknowledged Wetzel’s efforts to reclaim the logo.

“Senator Daines enjoyed meeting with Don Wetzel during his trip to D.C.,” a Daines spokesperson said in an email Tuesday. “The Senator is dedicated to helping the family in their mission to return the logo, and he will continue to be a champion of combatting the MMIW crisis.”

Wetzel said he is also gratified by the traction gained from the story about him last month at 406mtsports.com and Lee Montana newspapers. He said the piece reached media outlets in D.C., Pittsburgh, Texas and Mexico, and also the U.S. edition of Great Britain’s The Guardian.

“We’re cooking,” Wetzel said. “We want to make sure this doesn’t die out and we’re on top of it. We’ve got to get Indian Country behind this.”

While continuing pursuit of the logo, Don Wetzel, Ryan Wetzel, Schell and others involved plan to continue seeking support for the greater mission of the Blackie Wetzel Warrior Society. They’re in the spit-balling stages of crafting a business plan, creating a website, building partnerships and seeking funding that could establish, among other aims, the purple crosses and a shelter for abused women in Browning.

Thus, the optimism. Even the visit with the Washington Football Team had a slightly different air than the annual family trips from 2014-19, when many Wetzels felt they were used in the franchise’s attempt to show Native support for the Redskins nickname.

Sure, on this visit, for Washington’s Nov. 14 game against Tampa Bay, Wetzel “went from the Daniel Snyder Skybox to the nosebleed section – and that’s the truth.” And there was no opportunity to burn sweetgrass in the team’s front offices, where in 2016 Wetzel said he felt “it was kind of like the old trinkets and beads kind of thing – paraded around and used as pawns.”

This time, he sensed no ulterior motive from the franchise, which has had significant turnover since the Wetzels’ last visit in 2019 and thus limited knowledge of Blackie’s legacy. Instead, there was at least an effort to recognize his father, even if Wetzel still feels “stonewalled” in a logo chase that remains in frustrating limbo.

“It’s been almost like a breath of fresh air for me to see things moving like this,” Wetzel said. “I’m going to continue Blackie’s historical legacy because I think we’re making history here if we move this along.

“And we’re going to work on getting that logo back.”

Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.

Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.