What’s in a Name?

Syracuse New Times is name dropping…

Editor’s note: The nickname of the Washington franchise in the National Football League is offensive to many Native Americans. It won’t be used in the Syracuse New Times in stories about the team, about efforts to persuade the team that it should choose a non-offensive nickname or in stories about New York high school teams that use the same name.

The Oneida Nation’s campaign to change the racist, offensive name of the Washington, D.C., professional football team shows no sign of slowing.

“America is a society that values mutual respect,” Oneida Nation representative Ray Halbritter said early last month in a news release kicking off the Change the Mascot campaign. “Using a slur and making a mascot out of our indigenous culture has no place in such a society. We believe that with the help of our fellow professional football fans, we can get the NFL to realize the error of its ways and make a very simple change.”

The first ads aired on sports radio in Washington, D.C., in advance of Washington’s season opening game against the Philadelphia Eagles. Since then, the Nation has released more ads, Halbritter has been interviewed by national media outlets and the Oneida Nation held a symposium in Washington to coincide with the National Football League’s fall meeting nearby.

Among those calling for a name change are conservative syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer and Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., a member of the Chickasaw Nation. Cole is co-sponsoring a bill that would cancel the federal registration of trademarks that use the word in reference to Native Americans. Several publications and sports writers have said they will no longer use the team’s nickname.

Team owner Daniel Snyder has repeatedly said he will not change the name, although NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said last month that if one person is offended, “We have to listen.” Snyder is not budging.

“The name was never a label,” he wrote earlier this month. “It was, and continues to be, a badge of honor.”

The issue gained steam after President Barack Obama weighed in.

“If I were the owner of the team and I knew that there was a name of my team—even if it had a storied history—that was offending a sizable group of people, I’d think about changing it,” Obama said in an Associated Press interview published Oct. 5.

Obama made the comments in response to a reporter’s question.


“All these mascots and team names related to Native Americans, Native Americans feel pretty strongly about it,” he told the Associated Press. “And I don’t know whether our attachment to a particular name should override the real, legitimate concerns that people have about these things.”

That was too much for radio’s Rush Limbaugh, who attacked Obama for his comments and derided the campaign a few days later.

“This is being totally driven by the media,” Limbaugh said. “This is not being driven by fans. It’s not being driven by people in football. It’s totally driven by leftist activists in the media.” Last month, Limbaugh called the campaign something “the left can use to divide people and get what they want.”

NBC sportscaster Bob Costas, a Syracuse University graduate, challenged the use of the team nickname during halftime of the Oct. 13 game between Washington and Dallas.

“Ask yourself what the equivalent would be if directed toward African-Americans, Hispanics, Asians or members of any other ethnic group,” Costas said. “{It} can’t possibly honor a heritage or a noble character trait, nor could it possibly be considered a neutral term. It’s an insult, a slur no matter how benign the present-day intent.”

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