On the heels of a new bipartisan letter from members of Congress to Commissioner Roger Goodell urging the league to change the name of the Washington Redskins, Oneida Indian Nation and the Redskins have issued a pair of competing press releases.
“The NFL is a publicly subsidized $9 billion-a-year brand with global reach, and it is using those public resources and that brand to promote a dictionary defined racial slur,” Oneida Indian Nation representative Ray Halbritter said in response the team’s “Doesn’t Congress have anything better to do?” reaction to the letter. “While the Washington team somehow claims that Congress has better things to do than intervene in a serious issue that involves taxpayer dollars, it is the exact opposite: Congress has a responsibility to the American people to put an end to this kind of taxpayer-subsidized bigotry. We are thrilled to have these congressional leaders from both parties speaking out on behalf of the ‘Change the Mascot’ campaign and urge them to take immediate action to prevent the league from using any more public resources to promote hatred against Native Americans.”
Coincidentally (or not), the team has unveiled a “community voices” program, which apparently will feature the periodic publication of unsolicited statements of support from Native Americans regarding the name of the franchise.
“Over the past few months, we have received hundreds of letters, calls and emails from self-identified Native Americans in support of the name ‘Washington Redskins,’” the release states. “Their comments make clear why our team name means so much to them and to so many in the Native American community.
“It is essential for Redskins Nation to know what the majority of Native Americans really think — in their own words — and why it is so important that we listen to their voices on this issue. We should not turn our back on these Native Americans. Their voices deserve to be heard. We want Redskins Nation and the sports world to know what many Native Americans really think and why our name is their source of pride.”
The team contends that, in response to owner Daniel Snyder’s October 2013 letter to fans defending the team name, the organization received more than 7,000 letters and emails of support, with nearly 200 coming from people who identified themselves as Native Americans or family members of Native Americans. The team claims that only seven letters were received from Native Americans who oppose the team name.
It’s an entirely unscientific exercise, oozing with potential bias and lacking any evidence of vetting. It also ignores the organized effort against the name, and it also invites Native Americans and others to flood team headquarters with communications opposing the name.
Most importantly, the team’s latest effort continues to confuse the question whether the name is offensive with the question of whether Native Americans are actually offended. Plenty of people aren’t offended by objectively offensive content.
The biggest risk the team now faces is that its P.R. strategy will offend the intelligence of enough people to prompt an even stronger opposition to the name.