As we approach the Thanksgiving holiday, now is a time when millions of people in America pause to reflect upon our country's history and the relationship between Native Americans and the men and women who arrived here to found what would eventually become the United States. In recent years, there has been an awakening within our country about the great harm caused to Native people as a result of the mascotization and mockery of our culture, and especially the insidious R-word racial slur. Still used today by the Washington NFL team, this name was given to their franchise by an avowed segregationist and is defined by every major dictionary as a derogatory slur.
Thankfully, more and more people are becoming aware of the damage caused by the use of this epithet, and are calling for a change.
Adidas recently offered to help schools design new logos that avoid using offensive Native American imagery. Upon this news, President Obama summed up the situation well. He said it was a "smart, creative approach" that constructively helps "schools to think differently." The Oneida Nation was particularly gratified by Adidas' move: only two years ago, we supported a local high school which had decided to stop using such Native American imagery as its logo. That episode ultimately led to the creation of the Change the Mascot campaign, which has asked Washington's professional football team to make the same change.
Since the launch of our campaign, we have seen sports stars, religious leaders, public health organizations, Members of Congress of both parties and the president of the United States join our effort -- but the Adidas announcement represents a major turning point. While Adidas is clearly taking a laudable moral stand, the company is also a business -- and so its decision is a critical recognition that taking a moral stand makes economic sense.
That it makes such economic sense is hardly surprising: America is an increasingly diverse nation -- one that has slowly but surely become less willing to accept the kind of retrograde bigotry that denigrates people of color with ugly mascot names. That evolution has not happened overnight -- it has taken decades of civil rights struggles to make us, in the words of the constitution, a more perfect union. As we have matured as a society, the market for selling racism and bigotry has shrunk and the market for embracing tolerance and civility is growing.
Adidas' business decision underscores that change -- the company sees an upside in supporting communities' efforts to stop denigrating Native Americans. For that, it has garnered much-deserved praise, which will only help expand its business among communities of color who value corporations that stand on the right side of history.
That is a significant signal -- both to other companies and to the owners of the Washington football team.
For the myriad businesses that work with the NFL, Adidas has shown that corporate partners do not need to be neutral when it comes to moral issues. They can -- and they should -- make their voices heard, and support those working toward a very simple goal: to finally stop the promotion of a dictionary-defined racial slur against Native Americans.
For the Washington team and the NFL, Adidas' move should remind them that they do not have to be part of the still-persistent problem of racism in this country -- instead, they too can choose to be part of a solution. By changing the name of the Washington team, they can become high-profile proponents of healing, unity and civility.
To be sure, Washington team officials have tried to insist that their efforts to market and profit off their chosen racial slur is not designed to harm Native Americans. They argue that using this slur is somehow a way to honor our people. Yet, even if they still genuinely believe such discredited arguments, there is no downside to nonetheless making a change.
Clearly, Native Americans feel that this name is doing great harm to our communities, and just as clearly, millions of Americans of all walks of life are increasingly uncomfortable with the league still promoting this slur. No matter what the Washington team owners' personal feelings are about the intent of the name, they have an opportunity to make a public show of respect for the targets of the slur by making a change. In doing so, they could solidify a venerable legacy for themselves.
So far the team does not see this: when Adidas made its announcement, Washington team officials chose to attack the company's move by claiming other teams also use Native American symbols. The difference, of course, is that no other professional team uses a dictionary defined racial slur. That has to end -- and the sooner team officials learn the lesson within Adidas decision, the sooner they can become the icons not of intolerance and incivility, but of empathy and mutual respect.
Ray Halbritter is Oneida Indian Nation Representative and CEO of Oneida Nation Enterprises.
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