NFL to consult tribe over Redskins name

Zena 'Chief Z' Williams meets fans at a Washington Redskins training camp in August. Picture: AP

Zena 'Chief Z' Williams meets fans at a Washington Redskins training camp in August. Picture: AP

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GRIDIRON’S National Football League (NFL) has indicated it is prepared to meet with a Native American tribe pushing for the Washington Redskins to drop the team’s nickname – but not this week.

As league owners gathered on Monday in the nation’s capital for meetings, the Oneida Indian Nation held a symposium across town to promote their “Change the Mascot” campaign. Oneida representative Ray Halbritter said the NFL was invited along.

Instead, NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said a meeting has been scheduled for next month. “We respect that people have differing views,” McCarthy said. “It is important that we listen to all perspectives.”

He said, however, that the Redskins’ name is not on the agenda for the owners’ meetings. Redskins’ owner Dan Snyder has vowed to keep the name, and an AP-GfK poll conducted in April found that nearly four in five Americans do not think the team should change its name.

But it is a topic that has been generating ­discussion lately. ­President Barack Obama said in an interview last week he would “think about changing” the team’s name if he were the owner. Halbritter described that statement as “nothing less than historic” and said the team’s nickname is “a divisive epithet . . . and an outdated sign of division and hate.”

Addressing the NFL, Halbritter said: “It is hypocritical to say you’re America’s pastime but not represent the ideals of America.”

United Sstates representative Betty McCollum said the league and team are “promoting a racial slur” and “this issue is not going away.”

For years, a group of Native Americans has tried to block the team from having ­federal trademark protection, and Eleanor Holmes Norton, the district of Columbia’s envoy to Congress, predicted on Monday that effort will eventually succeed. “This name is going to go into the dustbin of history,” she said.

Lanny Davis, a lawyer who said he has been advising Snyder on the name issue for “at least several months,” said in a telephone interview after the symposium: “The Washington Redskins support people’s feelings, but the overwhelming data is that Native Americans are not offended and only a small minority are.”

Davis also said the campaign is “showing selective attention” by focusing on the Redskins and not teams such as the NFL’s Kansas City Chiefs, NHL’s Chicago Blackhawks, or Major League Baseball’s Cleveland Indians and Atlanta Braves.

Earlier, Halbritter was asked about those other nicknames.

“The name of Washington’s team is a dictionary-defined, offensive racial epithet. Those other names aren’t,” Halbritter said. “But there is a broader ­discussion to be had about using mascots generally.”

Redskins’ players have remained mostly silent on the topic, including star quarterback Robert Griffin III, who recently called the debate “something way above my understanding”.

Players approached in the locker room this week avoided the issue. “It’s really tough. And I mean this sincerely: I get both sides of the argument,” guard Chris Chester said. “I see how it can offend some people, but I feel like the context that this organisation has, there’s no negative connotation. You wouldn’t name your team something you didn’t have respect for. At least I wouldn’t. I mean, I understand, too, that it offends some people, so I sympathise with both sides.”

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