WASHINGTON - The University of Minnesota is working with the Minnesota Vikings in an effort to keep the Washington Redskins’ name from being used in “promotional and game date materials” during the NFL teams’ Nov. 2 game at the school’s stadium in Minneapolis, according to an Aug. 1 letter from university President Eric Kaler to U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn.
It is unclear to what degree the Vikings are collaborating in this process.
Kaler was responding to a June letter from McCollum to Minnesota Vikings owner Zygi Wilf — to which the university president was copied — urging the owner to condemn the Redskins’ team name. McCollum argued that Wilf needed to take a stand against “that hateful slur” because all of the NFL teams split the sales of their licensed merchandise equally.
“The time for debate has ended — the name of the Washington franchise is clearly an offensive racial slur,” McCollum wrote to Wilf. “I urge you, as an NFL team owner, to not remain silent on this matter any longer.”
Redskins spokesman Tony Wyllie said Wednesday night that the team disagrees with the school’s effort to bar the Redskins’ name for the game at TCF Bank Stadium, the University of Minnesota stadium. “We have met many Native Americans from Minnesota who agree with our position and feel we are using the term correctly and honorably,” he said.
Lester Bagley, the Vikings’ executive vice president of public affairs, said Wednesday night that the team is still deciding how it will handle the college’s request to eliminate the use of the Redskins’ name for the Nov. 2 game. He said Vikings and school officials met once on the issue, in late July at the university, but plan on further talks between now and November.
“We take the issue very seriously, but we’re just getting ready for our season and we’ve been very focused on training camp and the preseason, and to be honest, we don’t have a game plan for our Nov. 2 game versus Washington,” Bagley said.
Daniel Snyder, the Redskins’ owner, recently went on ESPN 980’s “The Drive” with former player Chris Cooley and defended the team name, and cited other professional sports teams with Native American names, such as the Atlanta Braves and the Kansas City Chiefs.
McCollum wrote the letter in the wake of the decision of the U.S. Patent and Trademark office to cancel the Redskins’ trademark registration. The ruling by the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board marked an enormous victory for opponents of the team’s name, but the decision does not deprive the team from selling its T-shirts and paraphernalia.
McCollum alleged that the Redskins’ presence at the university’s stadium would violate the institution’s Board of Regents’ policy on affirmative action, diversity and equal opportunity. She also noted that the stadium was built with funding from the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux.
It was unclear whether the university decided to take its own actions based on McCollum’s encouragement. The university is hosting all of the Vikings’ home games while the NFL team awaits the construction of its new stadium. The Associated Press has reported that the Vikings will pay the university $250,000 for every game.
In his letter to McCollum, Kaler said the Redskins name is “offensive and should be replaced.” Kaler went on to say that the University of Minnesota is “working with the Vikings to make every effort to eliminate the use of Washington’s team name” on game day.
He added that the college and the Vikings are talking with the “American Indian community to ensure a peaceful, positive and safe event for fans while also providing space for protest and expression.”