Sports

Oneida tribe calls for Washington Redskins name change

Redskins' owner Dan Snyder's lawyers say he'€™ll never change the team'€™s name

Ray Halbritter, a senior leader of the Oneida Indian Nation in New York state, speaks at a symposium in Washington, D.C. on Oct. 7, 2013 in favor of changing the name of the Washington, D.C. football team.
Robert MacPherson/AFP/Getty Images

The National Football League says it will meet with representatives of an Indian tribe from New York that is campaigning for the Washington Redskins to change their name, after President Barack Obama indicated he'd favor something less racially charged.

NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said Monday that a meeting was scheduled for next month and could happen sooner.

The Oneida tribe in New York State is spearheading a campaign to get the NFL franchise to rebrand itself, just as league owners hold their fall meeting in the U.S. capital. The tribe held a symposium on the issue Monday in Washington to coincide with the NFL owners' meetings taking place across town.

"It's a dictionary-defined offensive term," Ray Halbritter, a prominent leader of the Oneida Indian Nation, told Agence France-Presse. "Washington's team name is a painful epitaph that was used against my people, Indian people, when we were held at gunpoint and thrown off our lands."

Also at the symposium, U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn., said the league and team are "promoting a racial slur," adding that "this issue is not going away."

A major turning point in the long-running battle over the name came last week when Obama told The Associated Press he would "think about changing" the Redskins' name if he owned the team.

Whether the Redskins should retain a name deemed "usually offensive" by the Merriam-Webster dictionary and "dated offensive" by the Oxford dictionary has been a festering issue in Washington for years.

Dan Snyder, the marketing mogul who bought the Redskins in 1999, has insisted that he will never change the name. On Monday Snyder’s lawyers reiterated his stance.

"We at the Redskins respect everyone," said the attorney, Lanny Davis, in a statement, “But like devoted fans of the Atlanta Braves, the Cleveland Indians and the Chicago Blackhawks, from President Obama's hometown, we love our team and its name and, like those fans, we do not intend to disparage or disrespect a racial or ethnic group."

The Redskins' heritage dates to the team's 1932 birth in Boston, where they were first nicknamed Braves, because they played in the home ballpark of baseball's then-Boston Braves.

When they relocated in 1933 to Fenway Park, home of the rival Red Sox, the name was changed to Redskins, and it was retained when the club moved to the U.S. capital in 1937.

Six months after the move, a volunteer marching band was formed and the Redskins Band's trademark song was created, "Hail to the Redskins," with such lyrics as "Braves on the warpath, fight for old D.C." still sung today, but references to "scalp 'em" and "we want heap more" having been removed more than 30 years ago.

Last May, U.S. House of Representatives delegate Eni Faleomavaega of American Samoa introduced legislation that would strip the team of the trademark rights to the Redskins name.

Al Jazeera and wire services

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