(how do you say “these guys are out of their minds” in Navajo?)
The Silver and Black will establish a milestone on Sunday as they play the Denver Broncos in what will be the first Raiders game ever broadcast to the Navajo Nation.
“Raider Nation and Navajo Nation unite,” says Patty Herrera, director of multicultural initiatives for the Raiders. “It couldn’t be more perfect.”
We could treat this as a quirk, a bit of offbeat NFL trivia, but that’s not how they see it in Window Rock, Ariz., the tribe’s capital. The game will be broadcast on KTNN, a 50,000-watt AM station owned and operated by the Navajo Nation with the goal of keeping a dying language alive in an era when the young people are abandoning their heritage.
“That is a part of the mission, to keep the language alive,” says Ernie Manuelito, who will be in the press box at McAfee Coliseum doing play-by-play with KTNN “sports and rodeo director” L.A. Williams.
Sometimes it seems like uphill work. The elders speak Navajo, but not the kids. But there’s been a commitment to the language, both in the schools — Navajo children often sing the National Anthem and recite the Pledge of Allegiance in Navajo — and on KTNN, which broadcasts almost entirely in Navajo.
That may not sound like a big deal, but you have to understand the lay of the land. The Navajo Nation is a sprawling, 24,000-square-mile sovereign nation in the Four Corners area where Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and Arizona converge. It is home to more than 200,000 people.
Williams, who may be the only female sportscaster broadcasting an NFL game on Sunday, says she doesn’t want to make it sound as if they are living in the sticks. Those who live in Window Rock, Ariz., or Gallup, N.M., watch cable television, surf the Internet and buy Raiders gear at Wal-Mart.
Still, there are many remote homes where, Williams says, “the radio is their life” and their lifeline to the world beyond.
So will they be listening to the game on Sunday?
You bet. The Raiders are, by some accounts, the Navajo Nation’s most popular NFL team.
“I see a lot of Raider stickers and decals,” says Manuelito. “I was at Wal-Mart the other day, and the girl said the three teams that are the most popular are the Raiders, the Broncos and the Dallas Cowboys.”
Geez, I said to Manuelito — unable to resist what I thought was a hilarious one-liner — you wouldn’t think cowboys would be popular on an Indian reservation.
Manuelito managed an extremely polite laugh.
“Yeah,” he said. “I’ve heard that one before.”