WASHINGTON — National Football League officials will meet with the Native American group that is campaigning against the name of the Washington Redskins and hosted a symposium Monday on the issue a mile away from where league owners began gathering for a fall meeting.
“They know we’re not going away,” said Ray Halbritter, a representative for the Oneida Indian Nation. He called the meeting with the NFL “a move in the right direction.”
The symposium comes three days after President Barack Obama took a stance in the long-standing debate, saying that if he were the team’s owner, he would think about changing the name.
The Oneida Nation launched the Change the Mascot campaign a few months ago, drawing inspiration from a high school in its back yard that dropped the Redskins moniker. Since then, the New York tribe has emerged as one of the strongest forces behind the growing push to scrap the Washington team’s 80-year-old name, scheduling radio ads to run in every city the Redskins visit this season.
Its conference, held at the Ritz-Carlton hotel, featured a panel of speakers that included the head of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian, a psychologist who spoke about the public health consequences of the word, student activists and politicians — Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn., and District of Columbia delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton.
“I can think of no argument for retaining a name that directly insults Americans and especially our first Americans,” said Norton, speaking as a third-generation Washingtonian.
She said NFL commissioner Roger Goodell showed leadership last month when he stepped back from his earlier defense of the team’s name and said, “If one person’s offended, we have to listen.”
Nevertheless, no formal discussion of the Washington Redskins’ name is expected among NFL owners who are gathering at another Ritz-Carlton in Washington for a one-day meeting Tuesday, according to two people familiar with the situation.
They said they sense little or no sentiment within the league to urge Redskins owner Daniel Snyder to make a change.
NFL officials were invited to the Native American symposium, but none attended the event, Halbritter said. But he said he was encouraged that Goodell had instructed Adolpho Birch, the NFL’s senior vice president for labor policy and government affairs, to schedule a meeting. The sit-down is scheduled for Nov. 22 at the league’s offices, but two sources said it could be held sooner.
On Monday, as NFL franchise owners began arriving for their Tuesday gathering, several declined to comment on the name-change issue.
Green Bay Packers President Mark Murphy, who once played for the Redskins, was the athletic director at Colgate when the school changed the name of its athletic teams from Red Raiders to Raiders in 2001. But he declined to speak Monday on the controversy.
In May, Redskins owner Daniel Snyder told USA Today, “We’ll never change the name. It’s that simple. NEVER — you can use caps.”
In the months since, a string of prominent sports writers has stopped penning the name. A group led by a former Federal Communications Commission chairman announced an effort to persuade broadcasters to stop saying the name on the airwaves. And a decision is expected soon in a lawsuit aimed at revoking the federal trademark protection of the team’s name.
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.