Costas ad­dress on Red­skin name omits NBC deal with tribe Oneida Na­tion lead­ing charge to change mas­cot

The Washington Times Weekly - - Culture, Etc. - BY KEL­LAN HOW­ELL

When noted NBC sports­caster Bob Costas took to the air at half­time of the Wash­ing­ton-Dal­las NFL foot­ball last month to ask Red­skins owner Dan Sny­der and Red­skin fans to come clean about the in­sult­ing, “racist” na­ture of the team’s name, he wasn’t ex­actly com­ing clean about his own net­work’s fi­nan­cial in­ter­est in the con­tro­versy.

Even as Mr. Costas was giv­ing his on-air ed­i­to­rial, NBC Sports Net­work was qui­etly putting the fi­nal touches on a deal with the Oneida In­dian Na­tion to stage the net­work’s “Fight Night” box­ing event at the Turn­ing Stone Casino and Re­sort, a cen­tral New York re­sort owned and op­er­ated by the In­dian tribe.

The deal and Mr. Costas’ com­men­tary have raised eth­i­cal and trans­parency ques­tions be­cause Oneida na­tional rep­re­sen­ta­tive Ray Halbrit­ter has emerged as the spokesman and most vis­i­ble face of the “Change the Mas­cot” cam­paign to force the Red­skins to drop what Mr. Halbrit­ter calls the Wash­ing­ton team’s “racially deroga­tory” name.

As chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer of Oneida In­dian Na­tion, Mr. Halbrit­ter also has over­seen the tribe’s busi­ness in­ter­ests — in­clud­ing the casino/re­sort — since 1990.

NBC Sports of­fi­cials de­nied there was any con­nec­tion be­tween the Fight Night event Nov. 16 — the fifth NBC box­ing event this year, which is held at var­i­ous sites — and Mr. Costas’ Red­skins com­men­tary.

“We have no busi­ness re­la­tion­ship with this venue,” NBC spokesman Dan Ma­son­son said. “Our re­la­tion­ship is with Main Events, the pro­moter which puts all of our box­ing cards to­gether, se­lects the venues and stages the events. Our busi­ness in­ter­ests are solely to pro­duce the tele­vi­sion show. So ob­vi­ously, to draw a par­al­lel be­tween Bob Costas’ com­men­tary and this ar­range­ment is lu­di­crous.”

But Mr. Costas made no dis­clo­sure of the Oneida re­sort event dur­ing his com­men­tary, which at­tracted wide at­ten­tion. He said that he was speak­ing up be­cause the Oct. 13 foot­ball game in­volved the Red­skins play­ing the Cow­boys, “it seems like an ap­pro­pri­ate time to ac­knowl­edge the on­go­ing con­tro­versy about the name ‘Red­skins.’”

The broad­caster said he did not be­lieve Mr. Sny­der, Red­skin play­ers or fans “har­bor any an­i­mus to­ward Na­tive Amer­i­cans or [wish] to dis­re­spect them.”

But, he added, while sports team names like Braves, Seminoles and War­riors could be seen as hon­or­ing In­dian her­itage, the Red­skins name “can’t pos­si­bly honor a her­itage or a noble char­ac­ter trait. Nor can it pos­si­bly be con­sid­ered a neu­tral term. It’s an in­sult, a slur, no mat­ter how be­nign the present-day in­tent.”

El­e­ments of NBC Sports’ busi­ness ties to the Oneida re­sort were first re­ported by the Daily Caller.

Mark Feld­stein, pro­fes­sor of broad­cast jour­nal­ism at the Univer­sity of Mary­land, said all ties usu­ally get dis­closed at some point and spec­u­lated that NBC just didn’t think to dis­close its box­ing ne­go­ti­a­tions be­fore­hand.

“When in doubt, dis­clo­sure is bet­ter,” he said.

But Mr. Feld­stein also was skep­ti­cal about whether there was a con­nec­tion be­tween the Costas com­men­tary and the fight-card talks. He noted that NBC is such a huge cor­po­ra­tion and has pieces of so many sports leagues and events that the small Oneida In­dian Na­tion and its oc­ca­sional box­ing cards could not wield much in­flu­ence over the net­work.

Mr. Sny­der has held firm against the cam­paign or­ches­trated by Mr. Halbrit­ter, telling USA To­day in May the team would “never” change its name, and reaf­firm­ing his stand in an open let­ter to fans last month.

“I re­spect the opin­ions of those who dis­agree,” Mr. Sny­der wrote. “I want them to know that I do hear them, and I will con­tinue to lis­ten and learn. But we can­not ig­nore our 81-year his­tory, or the strong feel­ings of most of our fans as well as Na­tive Amer­i­cans through­out the coun­try.”

But the cam­paign against the name was given another boost when Pres­i­dent Obama, in an in­ter­view with The As­so­ci­ated Press on Oct. 5, said there were “le­git­i­mate con­cerns” about the Red­skins’ name and that, if he owned the team, “I’d think about chang­ing it.”

Mr. Sny­der met with NFL Com­mis­sioner Roger Good­ell and Mr. Halbrit­ter met sep­a­rately with NFL of­fi­cials last week to dis­cuss the name con­tro­versy. No league de­ci­sion was an­nounced and Mr. Halbrit­ter ap­par­ently did not get the sup­port from top of­fi­cials that he was de­mand­ing, in­clud­ing sanc­tions against Mr. Sny­der and his team.

“We need to re­dou­ble our ef­forts, and that’s what we’re go­ing to do,” Mr. Halbrit­ter told re­porters af­ter his Wed­nes­day meet­ing with NFL brass. “Be­lieve me, we’re not go­ing away.”

De­spite the con­tro­versy, it seems that the num­ber of peo­ple ac­tu­ally of­fended by the foot­ball team’s name is tiny com­pared with the vast ma­jor­ity of those who sup­port the name, in­clud­ing most Amer­i­can In­di­ans, ac­cord­ing to pub­lic polling stud­ies.

Mr. Sny­der has re­peat­edly cited that sup­port as one rea­son the team will not change its name.


NBC’s Bob Costas at the Wash­ing­ton Red­skins-Dal­las Cow­boys foot­ball game in Oc­to­ber

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