In what’s being called the largest congressional endorsement to rename the Washington Redskins, 50 senators urged the N.F.L. call for such a change Thursday.
“The NFL can no longer ignore this and perpetuate the use of this name as anything but what it is: a racial slur. We urge the NFL to formally support and push for a name change for the Washington football team” the senators wrote in a letter to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.
The letter, led by Washington Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell and signed by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, pointed to the recent action the NBA took against Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling as an example of a “decisive reaction” that “sent a clear message that racism will not stand in the NBA.”
“Today, we urge you and the National Football League to send the same clear message as the NBA did: that racism and bigotry have no place in professional sports. It’s time for the NFL to endorse a name change for the Washington, D.C. football team,” the letter read.
The NBA is punishing Sterling for making racist comments revealed in recordings released to the press. The senators argued in their note that Sterling’s comments initiated a national dialogue about race relations that make the time ripe for a Redskins name change.
“Now is the time for the NFL to act. The Washington, D.C. football team is on the wrong side of history. What message does it send to punish slurs against African Americans while endorsing slurs against Native Americans?” they asked.
According to The New York Times, the letter was only circulated amount Democrats, all but five Democratic senators endorsed the call — Virginia Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, Indiana Sen. Joe Donnelly and Arkansas Sen. Mark Pryor.
Two Independent senators, who caucus with the Democrats, signed the missive as well, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and Maine Sen. Angus King.
Redskins owner Daniel Snyder has said the Redskins will “never” change the name.
The Times reports that the NFL has not yet received the letter but spokesman Brian McCarthy offered in a statement that the league is committed to “diversity and inclusion.”
“The intent of the team’s name has always been to present a strong, positive and respectful image,” the statement said, according to The Times. “The name is not used by the team or the N.F.L. in any other context, though we respect those that view it differently.”
Read the letter:
Dear Commissioner Goodell:
This month, Americans applauded the rapid and decisive reaction from new National Basketball Association Commissioner Adam Silver to the racist remarks of Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling. Commissioner Silver sent a clear message that racism will not stand in the NBA.
Today, we urge you and the National Football League to send the same clear message as the NBA did: that racism and bigotry have no place in professional sports. It’s time for the NFL to endorse a name change for the Washington, D.C. football team.
The despicable comments made by Mr. Sterling have opened up a national conversation about race relations. We believe this conversation is an opportunity for the NFL to take action to remove the racial slur from the name of one of its marquee franchises.
Professional sports have tremendous power to influence American society and strengthen our communities. From Jesse Owens to Jackie Robinson to Billie Jean King, athletes have often been a driving force for equality and diversity in our nation.
Now is the time for the NFL to act. The Washington, D.C. football team is on the wrong side of history. What message does it send to punish slurs against African Americans while endorsing slurs against Native Americans?
This is a matter of tribal sovereignty – and Indian Country has spoken clearly on this issue. To this point, we have heard from every national Tribal organization, including the National Congress of American Indians, United South and Eastern Tribes, and the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians. These organizations represent more than 2 million Native Americans across the country and more than 300 Tribes with government-to-government relationships with the United States. These organizations have passed resolutions in support of a name change as they find the Washington, D.C. football team name to be racially offensive. We have heard from tribes across the country, including the Navajo Nation, the largest tribe in the Country, who oppose this name. To understand this viewpoint, we urge you to watch the video Proud To Be posted on the National Congress of American Indians website.
At the heart of sovereignty for tribes is their identity. Tribes have worked for generations to preserve the right to speak their languages and perform their sacred ceremonies. Many of today’s tribal leaders have parents and grandparents who were punished and prosecuted for practicing their ceremonies or speaking their languages. That is why tribal leaders worked with Congress to enact laws like the American Indian Religious Freedom Act, the Native American Languages Act, the Indian Arts and Crafts Act, and the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. These are all federal laws intended to protect and respect tribal culture and identity. Yet every Sunday during football season, the Washington, D.C. football team mocks their culture.
The NFL can no longer ignore this and perpetuate the use of this name as anything but what it is: a racial slur. We urge the NFL to formally support and push for a name change for the Washington football team.