- Don Van Natta Jr., Senior writer, ESPN The Magazine and ESPN.com
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Representatives of the Oneida Indian Nation on Wednesday asked NFL executives to sanction Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder for conduct detrimental to the league for continuing to use a team nickname and mascot that "promote a dictionary-defined racial slur."
In the 90-minute meeting between Oneida Nation representatives and three senior league executives in New York City, the officials also asked for all team owners to meet with Oneida leaders the week of Super Bowl XLVIII. And they asked that Snyder and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, who was traveling Wednesday and did not attend the meeting, visit Oneida Nation homelands in upstate New York.
But the Oneida representatives left disappointed, saying after the meeting with senior NFL executives Jeff Pash, Adolpho Birch and Paul Hicks that the league "defended the use of a racist name," Oneida spokesman Joel Barkin said.
"We are very disappointed," Barkin said. "This is the beginning of a process. It's clear that they don't see how this is not a unifying term. They don't have a complete appreciation for the breadth of opposition of Native Americans to this mascot and name."
Wednesday's meeting occurred one day after Goodell and Snyder met about the same issue. According to The Washington Post, Snyder repeated to Goodell that he had no plans to change the team's nickname.
"We met at the request of Ray Halbritter of the Oneida Nation. 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," NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said. "The meeting was part of an ongoing dialogue to facilitate listening and learning, consistent with the commissioner's comments earlier this year."
It is rare for the NFL to discuss such issues with tribal leaders directly. In 1992, NFL representatives met with tribal leaders about the appropriateness of the Redskins and Chiefs nicknames, but then-commissioner Paul Tagliabue said the league had no intention of pressuring the teams to change their names.
In a two-page letter written to Goodell and turned over to league executives Wednesday, Halbritter asked executives to amend the league's bylaws with a rule that would prohibit the NFL from naming teams with "dictionary-defined racial slurs," a classification that Oneida leaders say includes Redskins.
Halbritter also asked Goodell to open an inquiry of Snyder under section 8.13 of league bylaws, which gives the commissioner the power to initiate disciplinary action against any owner who is "guilty of conduct detrimental to the welfare of the league or professional football."
"As Commissioner," Halbritter wrote to Goodell, "you have exercised your authority to act pursuant to this provision under circumstances that are far less egregious than the use of a racial epithet as a team's name, including imposition of sanctions for salary cap violations, prohibitions of on-field celebrations that do not reflect well on the game and punishing off-field misconduct by team officials."
Despite increased calls by groups and journalists to change the nickname, Snyder has said repeatedly he would "never" change the name. Snyder, who recently hired lawyer and public relations consultant Lanny Davis to help him navigate recent publicity over the issue, could not be reached for comment Wednesday. Davis also did not return requests for comment.
During the meeting, Oneida representatives presented league executives with a copy of an Oneida-commissioned, 30-page study that examined whether a "scientific rationale" existed for the stance that the Redskins' team mascot harms Native Americans. The conclusion is that it does. According to the study:
• The Redskins contribute to "prejudice and discrimination" against Native Americans by using the team name and mascot, which would be considered harassment or bullying in a workplace or if used interpersonally.
• Tests have shown that the presence of Native American mascots results directly in lower self-esteem and lower mood within this population, as well as increased negative associations of Native Americans among non-Native American groups. Importantly, these effects occur regardless of whether the Native American mascot is considered "offensive."
• Racial slurs, racial harassment and racial bullying have been associated with poor mental health among Native American children, adolescents and adults, according to study author Michael A. Friedman, a clinical psychologist specializing in how social environment can influence mental and physical health.
"Native Americans are the only group in the United States subjected to having a racial slur as the mascot of a prominent professional sports team," Friedman wrote in his study. "The Washington football team, whether it intends to do so or not, is contributing to prejudice and discrimination against Native Americans by persisting in using the 'R-word.' With the help of the National Football League's $9 billion a year global marketing machine, this behavior not only repeatedly exposes Native Americans to a harmful stereotype, but also implicitly condones the use of this term by non-Native Americans, which if performed on an interpersonal level would possibly constitute harassment or bullying."
"People ask, 'Why now?' but Native Americans have protested against this nickname for 40 years," Friedman said in an interview. "There are 10 different studies showing the direct causal effects on Native Americans and how it creates a racially hostile environment."
Friedman said that in the past 25 years, 28 U.S. high schools have dropped Redskins as a nickname.
This month, Snyder, who has owned the team since May 1999, wrote an open letter to Washington fans saying that the nickname was a cherished part of the team's heritage and would never be changed. "After 81 years," Snyder wrote, "the team name 'Redskins' continues to hold the memories and meaning of where we came from, who we are, and who we want to be in the years to come."
Oneida Nation meets with NFL leadership Wednesday in New York City to seek Washington Redskins' name, mascot change.