Ray Halbritter took his case against the Washington Redskins’ name directly to the NFL on Wednesday, but emerged “disappointed” as the decades-old moniker doesn’t appear to be going away anytime soon.
Mr. Halbritter, a controversial figure and highly successful businessman recognized by the federal government as the official Oneida Indian Nation representative, met with top NFL officials in New York on Wednesday as he continues leading the charge to rid from the American lexicon what he and others describe as a racially derogatory name.
The meeting appears to have ended without much of a resolution, though Mr. Halbritter did urge NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to invoke Section 8.13 of league bylaws and take action against Redskins owner Daniel Snyder for “conduct detrimental to the welfare of the league or professional football.”
“We want to finally half the destructive effects of the ‘R-word’ on our people and Native peoples everywhere,” Mr. Halbritter wrote in a letter he presented to the league Wednesday. “Additionally, as financial sponsors of the league, we are concerned that the league’s marketing of a racially derogatory term undermines the NFL’s ability to be a unifying force in America.”
Following the meeting — which Mr. Goodell did not attend —Mr. Halbritter told the Associated Press he wasn’t pleased with the result.
“Given the way the meeting transpired,” Mr. Halbritter said, “it became somewhat evident they were defending the continued use of the name. Of course, we’re disappointed.”
The NFL released a statement that read: “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.”
For his part, Mr. Snyder has said that he’ll never drop the name “Redskins,” and has mounted a public-relations effort to convince the public the term is meant as respectful, not insulting, as Mr. Halbritter and others have contended.
But as the issue gains more national attention, so, too, does Mr. Halbritter’s past.
While many across the nation are hearing of him for the first time in conjunction with the Redskins’ name debate, longtime critics allege Mr. Halbritter is latching on to the issue to raise his own profile.
“He has legitimacy and is advancing what ultimately is his self-interest,” said Chad Davis, a Democratic member of the Oneida County, N.Y., legislature and one of a growing number in upstate New York — home to many Oneidas — who have become increasingly vocal in their opposition to Mr. Halbritter and his tactics.
Another high-profile critic, New York state Assemblywoman Claudia Tenney, who represents Oneida County, claims that Mr. Halbritter isn’t even a true Oneida — a suggestion that’s been dismissed as “absurd” and “insulting” by Mr. Barkin, the Oneida tribe’s spokesman.
Ahead of Wednesday’s meeting, Ms. Tenney sent a letter to the NFL urging them not to meet with Mr. Halbritter and to instead meet with Oneidas she represents.
“We’re saying [Mr. Halbritter] shouldn’t be the spokesperson for the name change … you’re giving an audience to this guy,” Ms. Tenney said.
While Mr. Halbritter’s legitimacy as Oneida leader has been challenged in court multiple times in the past, the federal government — specifically, the Bureau of Indian Affairs — continues to recognize him as the Nation’s representative. Mr. Barkin has brushed aside Ms. Tenney’s criticism and that of others as nothing more than an attempt to distract from the real issue of the Redskins’ name.