WASHINGTON — The NFL is prepared to meet with an Indian tribe pushing for the Washington Redskins to drop the team’s nickname. Just not this week.
As league owners gathered Monday in the nation’s capital for their fall 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 to attend.
Instead, NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said, a meeting has been scheduled for next month — and could happen sooner.
“We respect that people have differing views,” McCarthy said. “It is important that we listen to all perspectives.”
He said 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 4 in 5 Americans don’t think the team should change its name.
It’s a topic generating discussion lately, though. President Barack Obama said in an interview with The Associated Press last week that he would “think about changing” the team’s name if he were the owner.
Halbritter called that statement “nothing less than historic” and said the team’s nickname is “a divisive epithet … and an outdated sign of division and hate.”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.”
U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn., said the league and team are “promoting a racial slur” and “this issue is not going away.”
For years, a group of American Indians has tried to block the team from having federal trademark protection, and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District of Columbia’s envoy to Congress, predicted Monday that effort eventually will succeed.
“This name is going to go into the dustbin of history,” she said.
Lanny Davis, a lawyer who said he’s 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.”
Players for the Redskins have remained mostly silent on the topic, including star quarterback Robert Griffin III, who recently called the debate “something way above my understanding.”
Some players approached in the locker room Monday avoided addressing the subject altogether.
“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 organization 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 sympathize with both sides.”
AP Sports Writer Joseph White in Ashburn, Va., contributed to this report.
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