Kevin Gover, who heads the American Indian museum and whose son is a plaintiff in the trademark case, said the Oneida Nation has long been a powerful force in the American Indian community and that the tribe’s involvement in the name-change issue has only elevated the conversation. He said he has little doubt that NFL officials, even if none attended the symposium, were listening to what was said.
“Like all major industries, the NFL is very interested in its public image,” Gover said, “and when there is a challenge to that public image, the NFL is inclined to respond.”
During Monday’s event, Gover — who wrote a letter to The Washington Post about the offensiveness of the name when he was a high school senior in 1973 — spoke about how as a child he was called “redskin” and doesn’t understand why, unlike other racial slurs, the word has not become off limits.
Michael Friedman, a clinical psychologist who has researched the effects of stigma and discrimination, said the word amounts to harassment and causes mental and physical harm to a population that already faces higher rates of depression, alcoholism, suicide, diabetes and infant mortality.
“This is a public health issue,” he said. “This is not a political correctness issue.”
Also on the panel were two students from Cooperstown High School and the school board’s president, who earlier this year were behind the decision to change the school’s team from the Redskins to the Hawkeyes. The Oneida Nation later paid for the school’s new uniforms.
The tribe, which has about 1,000 members, has prospered in the casino and resort business and has pledged $10 million over 10 years to the American Indian museum.
The tribe also sponsors the Buffalo Bills and has a “vested interest in the league being a unifying force,” Halbritter said.
“As an Indian nation that values the idea of mutual respect, we only have one simple objective in all of this,” Halbritter said. “We no longer want to be treated as targets of racial slurs. We don’t want our children to be treated as targets of racial slurs. We want to be treated as what we are: Americans.”