NFL, tribal group meet to discuss name of the Redskins

The NFL continued to defend the name of Washington’s football team in a private meeting Wednesday afternoon with the Native American group that has launched a national campaign calling for its change, tribal leaders said.

Oneida Indian Nation representative Ray Halbritter called the meeting with top National Football League officials “historic” but said he was disappointed that during the 90-minute discussion in Manhattan the league continued to present arguments for keeping the name of the Washington Redskins, including polls that show the majority of people support it.

In a letter presented to NFL officials, the Oneidas called on NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to take specific actions, including amending the league’s bylaws to prohibit naming teams with dictionary-defined racial slurs and referring team owner Daniel Snyder to the league’s executive committee for possible sanctions should he continue to promote a name that is “clearly ‘detrimental to the welfare’ of the NFL’s image.”

None of the demands made by the Oneida Nation were discussed during the meeting and NFL representatives first learned of them when they read the letter afterward, said a person who was familiar with the league’s view but was not authorized to speak publicly. A Oneida Nation spokesman disputed that account and said several of the demands were discussed at the meeting.

League vice presidents Jeff Pash, Adolpho Birch and Paul Hicks represented the NFL at the meeting, said a person with knowledge of the situation.

 

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In a written statement, the NFL described the meeting as part of “an ongoing dialogue to facilitate listening and learning.”

“We listened and respectfully discussed the views of Mr. Halbritter, Oneida Nation Wolf Clan representative Keller George and their colleagues as well as the sharply differing views of many other Native Americans and fans in general,” it read.

The discussion in New York comes a day after Goodell met with Snyder. The team’s owner reiterated to Goodell that he has no plans to change the Redskins’ name, said one person, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because neither the league nor the team publicly confirmed the meeting nor discussed what happened in it.

As NFL owners meet at one Washington, D.C. hotel, members of the Oneida Nation gather at another hotel, asking that the Washington Redskins change their name. They say the name is a "divisive epithet." Team owner Daniel Snyder has said he would never change the name. (The Washington Post)

Halbritter said he was not discouraged by the NFL’s response. “It just tells us we need to redouble our effort, and that’s what we’re going to do,” Halbritter said at a news conference afterward. “Believe me, we aren’t going away.”

In addition to the letter, the tribe also presented the NFL with a report that it commissioned called “The Harmful Psychological Effects of the Washington Football Mascot.”

The Oneida Nation, which is based in central New York, has emerged as a vocal advocate for changing the team’s name. The group has launched a “Change the Mascot” ad campaign, scheduling radio spots to run in every city the team visits this season. This month, it hosted a symposium in the District on the same day that the NFL held its annual fall meeting.

President Obama helped fuel the decades-long argument about the team’s name when he said this month that if he were the team’s owner, he would think about changing it. A string of prominent sports writers and commentators have stopped using the team’s moniker, condemning it as a slur.

In response, Snyder wrote a letter to fans calling the team’s name “a badge of honor.”

“I’ve listened carefully to the commentary and perspectives on all sides, and I respect the feelings of those who are offended by the team name,” he wrote. “But I hope such individuals also try to respect what the name means, not only for all of us in the extended Washington Redskins family, but among Native Americans too.”

Goodell has said the decision about the team’s name is Snyder’s to make but that the league must listen if even a single person is offended by it.

Theresa Vargas is a reporter for the Post’s local enterprise team.
Mark Maske covers the NFL for The Washington Post.
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