News & Politics

Oneida Nation to Host Debate Over “Redskins” Down the Hall From NFL Meeting

The tribe, which has been running radio ads against the name, is bringing the issue right to the NFL's doorstep.

Goodell. Photograph via US Air Force.

When NFL executives descend on Washington for their fall meeting next week, they’re going to have some company. Officials from the Oneida Nation, a Native-American tribe headquartered in Upstate New York, are crashing the party with their own conference about the name of Washington’s football team. Both the NFL and the Oneidas will convene at the Ritz-Carlton Georgetown. While the football bosses will presumably be discussing television revenues, concussions, and other on-field affairs, the Oneidas be running a symposium in support of their recently launched campaign to persuade the Redskins to change their name.

The Oneidas’ conference is part of their “Change the Mascot” effort, which also includes radio ads broadcast in NFL markets calling on the league to acknolwedge the opinions of people who feel “Redskins” is a derogatory term. Since September, the Oneidas, who own Turning Stone Casino in Verona, N.Y., have been buying radio airtime in Washington and in markets where the team has played road games to play ads calling on NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to lean on Dan Snyder for a name change. Ray Halbritter, chief executive of the Oneida Nation’s business enterprises, who appears in the ads, will speak at Monday’s session, along with DC Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, who in March introduced a bill that would strip the Redskins’ trademark over that name.

The Oneidas’ panel will also feature Kevin Gover, the director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian. In February, the museum hosted a daylong symposium on the use Native American imagery in professional sports, with particular attention toward the Redskins.

Since that event, the debate over whether the team should change its name has been renewed, with several (non-sports) publications and even a few football writers, such as Sports Illustrated’s Peter King, declaring they will not print the name.

Although Snyder has insisted he will “never change the name”—imploring reporters to write “never” in capital letters—the din over his team’s name that started after last year’s playoffs has not died down in the new season. Even Goodell, who grew up a Washington fan and as recently as June backed up Snyder’s defense of the name as one that instills “courage, pride, and respect,” has changed his tune. “If we are offending one person, we need to be listening and making sure that we’re doing the right things to try to address that,” he said in a September radio interview.

Brett Stagnitti, a spokesman for the Oneida Nation, says that the tribe extended invitiations to NFL officials to walk down the hall from their conference and drop in on the one about the Redskins, but has not heard back yet.

Staff Writer

Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.