U joins pressure campaign to drop 'Redskins' name

Redskins protest
Angelique Vazquez, of Leech Lake, protests the Redskins outside the Metrodome in this 2013 file photo.
Jennifer Simonson/MPR News 2013

University of Minnesota leaders want nothing to do with "Redskins."

Washington's NFL team with the controversial name plays the Minnesota Vikings Nov. 2 at the university's TCF Bank Stadium, the Vikings' home field the next two years. University leaders are working now to keep the name off campus when the team comes to play.

Legally, there isn't much the university can do. The deal it signed that lets the Vikings and NFL use the U's football stadium doesn't give the university any power over what NFL teams do there.

State of the University
University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler in a 2013 file photo.
Jennifer Simonson/MPR News 2013

In a recent letter, however, U President Eric Kaler said he's working with the Vikings to eliminate the use of "Redskins" in publicity materials and public address announcements.

The Washington team's name is offensive and should be changed, Kaler wrote to Minnesota 4th District DFL Rep. Betty McCollum.

"The University of Minnesota is a space that is welcoming, non-discriminatory and a space that recognizes all individuals and respects all individuals and we know the name is offensive," said Shakeer Abdullah, the university's assistant vice president for equity and diversity.

2013: Protesters come out for Vikings-Redskins game

The university is asking the Vikings to help stop or minimize the use of the Washington team's logo, mascot and merchandise in the stadium, Abdullah added.

The Vikings in a statement said that while the team is "very sensitive to this issue...the Vikings are one of 32 NFL teams, and NFL policies obligate us to operate and market the game" at TCF no differently than it would against any other opponent.

Betty McCollum
U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum in a 2012 file photo.
Anthony Kwan/MPR News 2012

The Minnesota fight is part of a national campaign led by the powerful and wealthy Oneida Nation to shame Washington team owner Dan Snyder and the NFL into changing the team's name. It's had remarkable success this year, with everyone from President Obama and half the U.S. Senate, to former players and celebrities joining the cause.

McCollum, co-chair of the Congressional Native American Caucus and a leading voice in the effort to end the team's name, says it makes a mockery of efforts to improve the well-being and standing of Native Americans.

"This word is not about respect and dignity," she said. "No person that I know would go up to a young kid and say, 'Hey Redskin.'"

Snyder has been equally adamant that the team will never change its name even as the political and legal pressure has mounted.

"It's time that people look at the truth and the history and real meanings and look at us for what we are," Snyder said in a radio interview this week with a former team player. "We're a historic football team that's very proud that has a great legacy that honors and respects people."

That argument doesn't sit well with Minneapolis trademark lawyer Stephen Baird, who more than 20 years ago helped sue the team on the grounds that federal law prohibits trademarks that disparage groups or individuals.

After early victories, the suit was dismissed on appeal on technical grounds. But a follow-up lawsuit by another legal team using the same arguments Baird first made succeeded earlier this year in getting the team's federal trademarks cancelled. That ruling is currently under appeal.

"The team has never brought forward a single Native American witness and taken testimony from them to help make their case that the term actually honors Native Americans," Baird said.

Baird says he came up with the strategy of attacking the Redskins trademark because going after a team's ability to sell merchandise goes to the core of what a professional sports franchise does.

"Teams would pay more attention because it would get at the pocketbook as opposed to just the morality of it," Baird said.

The university says it will provide a space for protesters outside of the stadium for the Redskins game in November and plans to hold on campus events to raise consciousness about the issues surrounding the team's name in the week leading up to the game.

McCollum and others plan to keep up the pressure to end the use of the name.

Read U President Kaler's letter to McCollum:

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