News & Politics

Debate Over “Redskins” Reaches the United Nations

Representatives from the Oneida Indian Nation ask for the international organization’s support in getting the team to change its name.

The brewing controversy over the name of Washington’s pro football team is now a matter before the United Nations. Leaders from the Oneida Indian Nation, a tribe that has waged a season-long campaign against the team’s name, are meeting today with Ivan Šimonovic, the assistant secretary-general for human rights, at the UN’s headquarters in New York.

The UN has no jursidiction over the NFL, of course, but its Human Rights Council has gotten involved in trying to fix racism in sports, including FIFA and other soccer organizations. “This particular case could be of interest to a number of UN human rights mechanisms,” a spokesperson for the Human Rights Council told USA Today.

Since last September, the Oneidas have sponsored advertisements calling on the Redskins to drop their name, which is defined by most dictionaries as derogatory, staged rallies outside NFL games, and held meetings with high-ranking NFL executives, though not Commissioner Roger Goodell.

The name has also been panned by a wide of critics from President Obama, who has said he would think about changing the name if he owned the team, to Washington cornerback DeAngelo Hall, who said the team “probably should” get a less-offensive nickname. (Hall, who negotiating a new contract, later walked back that statement.)

“This issue is not going away until the offensive name is retired,” Ray Halbritter, an Oneida representative who is meeting with the UN, said in a press release. But even if the UN agrees that Washington’s NFL club should change its name, the decision to do so still rests with Dan Snyder, who has not been swayed so far.

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.