WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama, already embroiled in a battle over a government shutdown, jumped into another dispute on Saturday - a long-running fight over the name of the Washington Redskins NFL team.
Obama said that if he owned the team, he would consider changing the name, which American Indians and others have long pilloried as racist.
“I’ve got to say if I were the owner of the team and I knew that the name of my team, even if they’ve had a storied history, that was offending a sizeable group of people, I’d think about changing it,” Obama said in an interview with the Associated Press.
Native American groups have fought the name in court and through advertising campaigns. On Monday, the Oneida Indian Nation of New York plans to protest a National Football League meeting in Washington.
The group called Obama’s comments “historic” and said they added momentum to its campaign to urge a name change.
“The use of such an offensive term has negative consequences for the Native American community when it comes to issues of self-identity and imagery,” said Oneida Indian Nation representative Ray Halbritter.
The Redskins name remains popular with fans. Polling by the Washington Post over the summer found more than 66 percent of people did not want to see it changed.
In May, team owner Dan Snyder was adamant in an interview with USA Today that the name would stick.
“We’ll never change the name,” Snyder told the newspaper. “It’s that simple. NEVER — you can use caps.”
Lanny Davis, a lawyer for the club, said the team and its fans mean no offense to Native Americans.
“The name ‘Washington Redskins’ is 81 years old - it’s history and legacy and tradition,” Davis said in a statement in response to Obama’s comments.
“The Redskins fans sing ‘Hail to the Redskins’ every Sunday as an expression of honor, not disparagement,” he said.
Reporting by Roberta Rampton; Editing by Peter Cooney