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