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Anchored by Jake Tapper, The Lead airs at 4 p.m. ET on CNN.

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October 8th, 2013
06:54 PM ET

Oneida Indian Nation on NFL's Washington Redskins: The 'R word' is a racial slur

There is growing support to change the name of NFL sports team the Washington Redskins.

"I've got to say if I were the owner of that team, and I knew that there was a name of my team, even if it had a storied history, that was offending a sizable group of people, I would think about changing it," President Barack Obama said in an interview with the Associated Press Saturday.

The president's statement "certainly adds momentum to this issue, and is the first sitting president to take on that issue. I think it's certainly something that is significant and historic," said Ray Halbritter, Oneida Indian Nation representative and vocal leader against the Redskins name.

But team owner Dan Snyder has said repeatedly that he will never change the name, and according to The Washington Post's Roger Goodell, Snyder is under no pressure to do so.

"History is littered with people who have vowed never to change something – slavery, immigration, women's rights," said Halbritter. "One thing that's really great about this country is when many people speak out, change can happen."

Lanny Davis, former special counsel to former President Bill Clinton who describes himself as an Obama supporter, responded to the president's comments on the team's behalf, saying the name is meant as an honor, not a disparagement. Davis also questioned why the main focus is on the Washington Redskins, and not the Atlanta Braves, Cleveland Indians, Kansas City Chiefs, or Chicago Blackhawks.

"Let's be clear, the name, the "R" word is defined in the dictionary as an offensive term. It's a racial slur. I think there is a broader discussion to be had about using mascots generally, and the damage it does to people and their self-identity, but certainly there's no gray area on this issue," said Halbritter.

A decade-old study by a Smithsonian Institution senior linguist suggested that, according to his scholarship, the term redskin was first used by Native Americans to distinguish themselves from whites who were encroaching upon their land.

"Regardless of what the origin is, it's creating damage right now. No matter what poll you take, the damage is being created. Scientifically, (there's) evidence that there is damage to the image of – to especially young children," said Halbritter.

Some sports writers including Sports Illustrated's Peter King, have said they are going to stop using the Redskins name, which Halbritter said is the right thing to do.

"We want to see this country unified. We want the NFL to succeed. We are proud sponsors of the NFL, but we want it to not only be America's past time, but express America's ideals as well. And this name does not do that," said Halbritter.

"It's divisive, it's origin was hate, it's used as hate, it was the name that was used against our people whom were forced off our lands at gunpoint, it was a name used when our children were forced out of our homes and into boarding schools. So it has a sordid history, and it's time for a change," said Halbritter.

NFL owners are currently in Washington, D.C. for their fall meetings, but the league reportedly passed on a sit-down with a Native American group that is leading the charge to change the name. But the two sides are scheduled to meet in late November.

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