Redskins urge D.C. fans to weigh in on name-change bill ahead of council vote


Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, accompanied by Ray Halbritter, national representative of the Oneida Indian Nation, speaks in Washington on Oct. 7 during the Oneida Indian Nation's Change the Mascot symposium calling for the Washington Redskins to change the team name. (Carolyn Kaster/Associated Press)

With the D.C. Council readying to call on the team to change its name, Washington Redskins management asked its fans in the District on Monday to contact their lawmakers and share “what #RedskinsPride means.”

The e-mail is a new acknowledgment from the team of the debate over its name, which has reached a fever pitch in recent months as activists and commentators have called on the team and the NFL to make a change. Even President Obama has weighed in, saying he would consider a name change if he were the owner.

The team has tried to answer critics by framing the name in terms of the team’s heritage rather than as a potentially offensive racial slur. “Our past isn’t just where we came from — it’s who we are,” reads the #RedskinsPride page on the team’s Web site.

Last month, team owner Daniel M. Snyder sent a letter to fans reiterating that he had no plans to change the team’s name, saying “we cannot ignore our 81 year history.”

“That tradition — the song, the cheer — it mattered so much to me as a child, and I know it matters to every other Redskins fan in the D.C. area and across the nation,” he wrote.

The 13-member D.C. Council will vote Tuesday on a resolution calling for a name change as “the right and prudent thing to do.” The Redskins name, draft legislation says, is considered “to be racist and derogatory, and . . . increasingly considered to be insensitive in our multi-cultural society.” It has the support of a majority of members and is expected to pass easily.

The council has no authority to force a name change for the team, which practices in Virginia and plays home games in Maryland. But the team told fans in the e-mail that “it’s still important for them to hear from you!”

The Redskins said in a statement that it “wanted to give our fans an opportunity to voice their opinion.”

Karen Sibert, a spokeswoman for D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D), said his office had not, to her knowledge, logged any calls or e-mails on the Redskins name issue by close of business Monday.

Meanwhile, the NFL said Monday that league executives will meet Friday with a member of the New York State Assembly who has been a vocal critic of a Native American leader urging the league to take action against the Redskins.

NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said “senior executives” will meet with Assemblywoman Claudia Tenney and Melvin Phillips, an Oneida Indian whom she represents through her law practice and who supports keeping the team’s name. The meeting comes less than two weeks after NFL officials met with Ray Halbritter, the Oneida Indian Nation representative who is leading a national campaign against the team’s name.

“As the commissioner has said, it is important to listen to different perspectives on this issue,” McCarthy said.

 

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Tenney, a Republican who represents Oneida County in the state legislature, denounced Halbritter as a fraud during a news conference he held in New York after his meeting with the NFL.

Tenney’s client, Phillips, 76, who has been in a long-running land dispute with the tribe, said he does not think the Redskins should change the team’s name.

“Listen — if we’re going to do this, let’s get the Indian off the nickel, too,” Phillips said. “It’s more of an honor than a threat to us. I hope they won’t ever change that name. Keep that name forever.”

Joel Barkin, a spokesman for the Oneida Nation, dismissed Tenney’s attacks and said the tribe does not stand alone on this issue.

“Groups and political leaders representing millions of people understand a self-evident and painfully obvious truth: promoting a dictionary-defined racial epithet in the 21st century is not acceptable,” he said in an e-mail.

Dan Steinberg contributed to this report.

Mike DeBonis covers Congress and national politics for The Washington Post. He previously covered D.C. politics and government from 2007 to 2015.
Theresa Vargas is a reporter for the Post’s local enterprise team.
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