By Albert Lin
A nonprofit organization that works closely with the National Football League to improve the hiring of head coaches and general managers from underrepresented groups is now calling for the Washington Redskins franchise to change its name.
The Fritz Pollard Alliance, which meets with NFL officials every December to present a list of qualified coaching and front-office candidates from underrepresented groups, on Monday went public with its decision to take a stand against the Washington club’s nickname. In a letter to its members (coaches and front-office staffers throughout the league), Chairman John Wooten and Executive Director Harry Carson wrote, “As the NFL continues to move in the direction of respect and dignity, one of its teams carrying this name cuts glaringly against the grain. It hurts the league and it hurts us all.”
Wooten wrapped up his playing career with the Redskins in 1968 after nine seasons with the Cleveland Browns, and Carson was a Hall of Fame linebacker for the New York Giants.
According to The Washington Post, alliance leaders have tried to meet with Snyder for months to no avail, and they also voiced their concerns to league officials but were told it was a team matter.
A July 2014 meeting with American Indian representatives, including National Congress of American Indians Executive Director Jacqueline Pata and Oneida Indiana Nation representative Ray Halbritter, proved to be a turning point in the alliance’s point of view.
“It was so powerful,” Fritz Pollard Alliance attorney Cyrus Mehri said. “I kept thinking, Hearing this is just like hearing John Wooten talk about the N-word. It’s the same pain.”
Redskins spokesman Tony Wyllie said in a statement: “We’ve had many conversations with the FPA about the name issue and are disappointed in their decision. We believe that they ignored the outstanding support we have received from Native Americans across this country for the Washington Redskins and the Washington Redskins Original Americans Foundation during their decision making process.”
The debate over the name has been waged for years, but momentum for a change has increased in the last year. President Obama and 50 U.S. senators voiced their displeasure with the name, and the U.S. patent office canceled the team’s trademark for Redskins because it is “disparaging to Native Americans.”
The Fritz Pollard Alliance, named for the NFL’s first Black coach and one of its first two Black players, was founded in 2003, shortly after the league instituted the Rooney Rule, which requires clubs to interview at least one candidate from an underrepresented group prior to hiring a head coach. The rule was later expanded to include general manager positions and the equivalent (i.e., the football decision maker).
The alliance also has tried to rid the league of the N-word, but Wooten’s expectation that the NFL would make uttering the N-word on the field a 15-yard penalty was never realized.