For about 90 minutes yesterday in the NFL offices at 345 Park Avenue in New York, league officials listened to representatives of the Oneida Indian Nation plead their case on changing the name of the Washington Redskins. At the meeting for the NFL were senior executives Adolpho Birch, Jeff Pash and Paul Hicks. Two people who did not attend the get-together were commissioner Roger Goodell and Washington owner Daniel Snyder.
When the meeting was over, Oneida Indian Nation representative Ray Halbritter characterized it as historic, but ultimately disappointing in that NFL officials “continued to defend use of the slur.” He said NFL officials at the meeting defended the team name on the basis of history, tradition and polling, many of the same arguments that Snyder presented in a letter to his team’s fans recently.
In short, the only thing that the Oneida Indian Nation got for their time from the NFL was their parking validated.
The meeting between Goodell and Snyder the day before in those same offices was to go over the possible damage that had been done to the NFL and the Washington football team. They saw no reason to change the name because there was no financial fallout from the protest; other than the Oneida Indian Nation, there is no national Native American outcry to change the name.
At this point in time, the Oneida Indian Nation has done a very good job of getting name recognition for themselves, and they have gotten the media and politicians asking for the NFL and for Snyder to change the team name. This has been a very good branding campaign.
I do not think for one moment that the Oneida Indian Nation isn’t sincere about wanting to get Washington to change the team name. However, given the fact that small groups of Indian tribes and others have advanced this same narrative without success in one way or another for 30 years, you have to wonder why the folks at Oneida Indian Nation felt that they had a case that would work this time around.
They got a number of powerful members of the Washington media on their side, but those same people are regulars at the games and are fans of the team.
From the NFL and the Redskins’ side, this is about a brand. The Redskins are the NFL’s third-most valuable team according to Forbes Magazine. The team is worth $1.7 billion, and they hold the present NFL record for consecutive sellouts — every game from the opening game of the 1968 season though this Sunday’s game at Fed Ex Field against the San Diego Chargers has been sold out.
Nothing that the Oneida Indian Nation has done to date has cost the team or the league a single dime. When you challenge a league like the NFL and a team like the Redskins in court on a name change, you have to know before you start that it is a long shot.
For the Oneida Indian Nation, it was a shot worth taking. On the NFL and Redskins’ side, they needed look at the possible damage and see if the threat was strong enough to damage the brand. Given the events of the last 48 hours, Snyder knows his fan base wants the name to stay as is, and so it will — at least for the moment.