A little after 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, three representatives of the Oneida Indian Nation walked into a press conference after an hour-long meeting with NFL officials to talk about what they called a “critically important” issue: changing the name of the NFL's Washington Redskins.
“What we told them is that we would like to work with them in a way that provides a legacy that ends the continued use of marketing a racial slur,” said Ray Halbritter, CEO and Oneida Indian Nation representative. “And that we were not there to attack the owner of the NFL, we are proud sponsors of the sport.”
But the Nation did ask NFL executives, including senior vice president, Adolph Birch, and vice presidents, Jeff Pasha and Paul Hicks, to sanction the Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder for continuing to “promote a dictionary-defined slur that is clearly detrimental to the welfare of the NFL’s image.”
“Based on existing bylaws,” Halbritter wrote in a letter to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, “The actions you and the NFL Executive Committee can take against an offending franchise include 'cancellation or forfeiture of the franchise in the league' and 'requiring the sale of any stock of interest in a member club' by the offending owner.”
Dan Snyder and Roger Goodell were not present at the meeting. But the executives reiterated their previous position that the name had an 81-year history and that a lot of people were supporting it.
“We met at the request of Ray Halbritter of the Oneida Nation,” the league said in a statement released to the media. “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. The meeting was part of an on-going dialogue to facilitate listening and learning, consistent with the commissioner’s comments earlier this year.”
Halbritter, who is the leader of the "Change the Mascot" campaign, said that the NFL faces a civil rights issue, not a Dan Snyder issue, and said that it was unacceptable for the team to continue to use the racial slur.
The Oneida Nation asked to meet with all the NFL team owners during Super Bowl week and invited Goodell and NFL officials to come to the Nation’s homelands and have a conversation about the day-to-day effects of the Washington team name on their community.
Psychologist Dr. Michael Friedman, who joined the press conference, outlined those effects based on his report, The Harmful Psychological Effects of the Washington Football Mascot. He said that the psychological effects must be considered a public health issue rather than one about being politically incorrect.
“The mascot is textbook discrimination,” Friedman said. “The ongoing use of the slur above objections, damages mental health.”
The meeting was held at the Marriott Marquis at 11 Times Square. It was briefly interrupted by a disgruntled woman who challenged Halbritter’s position on pending legal issues that were unrelated to the NFL and Oneida Nation meeting.
Snyder, who has owned the team since May 1999, wrote an open letter to Washington ticket holders saying that the nickname was a beloved part of the team's heritage and would never be changed.
The Nation said that they would continue their fight to get the name changed.
“In this country, we champion the idea of mutual respect and look to a dialog as a way to resolve issues,” said Halbritter. “Use of the 'R-word' is not a unifying force, nor does it convey, honor or respect."