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Does The Word "Redskins" Cause Psychological Damage?


Switching gears now. If you are a sports fan, this is probably your favorite time of year. Baseball's World Series was just concluded. Basketball is just getting underway, and football season is in high gear. But if you've been paying attention to the team in Washington, you'll note that they've been making headlines for their controversial name far more than for their lackluster play. And here is where I should say that we know the use of the team name is offensive, but you need to know what we're talking about because for many years, many people - mainly Native Americans, but not all - have complained that the name of the Washington team, the Redskins, is a racial slur.

In recent times, the Oneida Indian Nation, based in New York, has been leading a campaign to change the name. Yesterday, Oneida Nation representatives met with a handful of NFL officials in an effort to persuade them, again, to persuade team owners to change the name. Here to tell us more about the meeting is Ray Halbritter. He is the Oneida Nation's federally recognized representative and CEO of the Oneida Nation Enterprises. Welcome back. Thanks so much for joining us once again.

RAY HALBRITTER: Yes. Thank you for having me.

MARTIN: So how did it go?

HALBRITTER: Well, we had a meeting of course, and we were of course a bit disappointed that the league continues to defend this name by using basically Dan Snyder's talking points.

MARTIN: Dan Snyder being the owner of the team.

HALBRITTER: Yes, Dan Snyder being the owner and...

MARTIN: And he wasn't there, nor was the NFL commissioner, Roger Goodell. He was not there either. Were you disappointed by that?

HALBRITTER: Well, not necessarily. It all depends on the results, and the results weren't what I would say encouraging. You know, they attempted to defend the use of the name by saying there were polls that show some kind of Native support. They also - it was surprising to me - defended Preston Marshall by suggesting that he made the name. When he used the name, it was so that he could make more profit, sell more tickets, and he - you know - you know, that was sort of an argument. But, you know, to - unfortunately, you know, that doesn't change the current fact that the name is defined in the dictionary as offensive and is a racial slur and a racial epithet.

MARTIN: Preston Marshall being the founder of the team, the original owner of the team.


MARTIN: Now you also presented some data from a - it was a research study - not a research - it was a research report because it summarizes existing research. It didn't present original new research, but it said that actually you feel - it presented data showing - or research showing - that these kinds of team names, particularly stereotypical ones, even if they have positive connotations for some people, can be harmful to Native American children. Could you talk a little bit about that? I know that you're not an expert in this area, but could you talk a little bit about that?

HALBRITTER: Yes, it showed and demonstrated their scientific support for the fact that this is indeed not only offensive and a racial epithet, but damaging to the self-image and self-esteem of young people, in particular Native American children. And, you know, while people consider, you know, this idea of changing the name to be a small issue or a petty issue or simply a politically correct issue, it is, however, scientifically supported that it in fact does damage to young minds.

And it may in fact be, for that reason, one of the most important issues we face because our people, you know, of course have been beaten down. They - you know, we have the lowest life expectancy in America, the lowest standard of living. Some of these reservations have the highest teen suicide rates in the nation. Those are all attributable, I believe, to, you know - of the fact, you know, your mental condition. Whether you are depressed or you feel less than equal or whatever all those things combined make unfortunately affect your physical well-being, as well, and in particular, your ability to help yourself believe in yourself - to strive for, you know, a better future, a better goal for yourself. And nothing could be worse, I think, than a people losing their belief in themselves.

MARTIN: What was the response when you presented this work?

HALBRITTER: They just said they would read it, and there was really very little response, just a continued defense.

MARTIN: We have a short statement from the NFL that they...


MARTIN: ...Issued yesterday, and it says - 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. The meeting was part of an ongoing dialogue to facilitate listening and learning consistent with the commissioner's comments earlier this year. Are you acquainted with other Native Americans who have very different opinions about this? Have they communicated with you?

HALBRITTER: I have not, matter of fact. And we explained at the meeting, and we submitted a list of organizations as well as American Indian organizations, of leaders of American Indian people in the nation, and we told them that, you know, for many years we've traveled throughout the country. We meet regularly with American Indian leaders. I question whether or not they are talking about American Indian leaders or talking to American Indian leaders.

What reservations have they traveled to? We, on the other hand, travel to these reservations. We talk to American Indian leaders who represent Indians. I do not doubt there are individual Indian people who may not be affected or feel that this is an issue for them, of course not. But as a leader, as a parent, I came to understand this issue in a much more stark and direct way, as we know firsthand the despicable condition that many Indian families are in and communities are in. So...

MARTIN: I think we'll dig into that research in a later date. So perhaps you'll join us for that, but, Ray, for now you also - we have a couple of minutes left, and you gave a letter to the league yesterday with a number of actions that you think that they should take. One was a meeting with all 32 NFL owners during Super Bowl week, a visit to the Oneida tribal homelands by the Roger Goodell - commissioner - and Washington team officials, an amendment to league bylaws prohibiting teams from using dictionary-defined racial slurs as team names and perhaps most particular to this case, action under a section of the NFL, existing NFL bylaws, that empowers the commissioner to move against an owner who is, quote, guilty of conduct detrimental to the welfare of the league, unquote. Did you get any indication from the officials you met with that they are amenable to any of those requests?

HALBRITTER: We didn't get any indication of that. We, however, are expecting a response to the letter, but given the tenor and the responses at the meeting - didn't give us a reason to be optimistic that they would do any more than what they've been doing, which is just basically Dan Snyder's talking points.

MARTIN: What are you going to do now?

HALBRITTER: Well, there's more to be done. I think that one thing that's great about America is that most people really want to do the right things, especially when they understand it in terms of how it really - this scientific, you know, information is so helpful to really know that it's not just an opinion or a politically correct issue, it's a scientific issue. It's supported that, you know, young children's minds and their self-esteem is affected. So I know that most people think about, as we do, their children and their families and what's best for them. And anybody who understands this issue will realize that this is just not the time in our society to continue the use of a slur. And...

MARTIN: We have to leave it there for now, Mr. Halbritter.


MARTIN: Thank you for joining us. Ray Halbritter is the Oneida Nation's representative. He's the CEO of Oneida Nation Enterprises. He attended and asked for this meeting with a number of those NFL officials. And he's been with us to talk about this issue previously, and we hope he will again. He joined us by phone from his offices in New York. Mr. Halbritter, thank you.

HALBRITTER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.