The PJ Tatler

Lawmakers Continue War on the Redskins' Name, Think Goodell is Coming Around

D.C.’s delegate to Congress said today that she believes NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is coming around to thinking the Redskins is a racist name for the capital’s home team.

“If we are offending one person, we need to be listening, and making sure that we’re doing the right things to try to address that,” Goodell said Wednesday in an interview with WJFK-FM.

But the commissioner said any name change is up to team owner Dan Snyder.

“But it is something that I want all of us to go out and make sure we’re listening to our fans, listening to people who have a different view, and making sure that we continue to do what’s right to make sure that team represents the strong tradition and history that it has for so many years,” Goodell added.

In May, Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) and nine other members of Congress sent letters to Goodell, Snyder, the 31 other NFL franchises, and Redskins’ sponsor FedEx to urge that the team’s name be changed. In March, American Samoa Del. Eni Faleomavaega (D) introduced a bill, co-sponsored by those who signed the letter cosponsored, to cancel existing trademark registrations containing the term “redskin,” and deny registration for new trademarks using the term.

Snyder has said there’s no name change being considered.

“Roger Goodell knows that a disparaging name for a NFL team implicates the league and its good name,” said Norton. “He also may be alert to the fact that on four separate occasions the Patent and Trademark Office has refused to register any trademark containing the name ‘Redskins’ on grounds of disparagement, and that but for a technicality, the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board ruling in 1999 that the name was offensive under federal trademark law already would have succeeded in causing a name change.”

“The legal handwriting is on the wall, and Goodell’s statement makes clear that this issue has become troublesome to the National Football League,” she continued. “The team is so loved by us all in this region that it is inconceivable that a name change to eliminate an ethnic slur would diminish that admiration. Particularly in the team’s multi-ethnic region, the reasons for the change would be embraced.”

A Washington Post poll at the end of July found only 25 percent of Washingtonians dislike or hate the name Redskins. Two-thirds of all polled said the team should not change its name.

Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.), co-chair of the Congressional Native American Caucus, has teamed up with the Oneida Indian Nation of New York to pressure Snyder to change his team’s name.

“The NFL and its Washington franchise are promoting and profiting from an offensive, racist caricature of Native Americans that simply can’t be tolerated. The Change the Mascot campaign has my full support. I hope football fans, the media, and all Americans send a strong message that Native Americans and their culture are to be respected and honored, not degraded,” McCollum said.  “The Oneida Indian Nation of New York is to be commended for standing up for the dignity of all Native Americans. My hope is that NFL owners and players go on the record and join the campaign because right now their silence is condoning this racist brand.”

A previous release from McCollum in May called the team the “XXXskins.” Today’s release called them the “Red*****”.

The Republican co-chairman of the caucus, Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), is one of two American Indians in Congress and is one of those advocating that the Redskins’ find a new name. The other Native American in Congress, Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-Okla.), is not part of the anti-Redskins campaign.

Meanwhile, news stories aren’t being especially kind to Chief Zee (72-year-old Zema Williams), the Redskins’ No. 1 fan who has grabbed his headdress and tomahawk to rally the crowd for the past 35 years:

In some ways, it’s as if Archie Bunker or Amos and Andy were hurled forward in time, not sure what to make of all these hypersensitive, politically correct folk who want them gone.

After all, no professional team in 2013 would begin letting an African-American man dress up in Native American regalia and wave a tomahawk, pay for his admission, his parking pass and let him shape animal balloons for children in the corporate suites on Sundays.

Yet like the nickname, Snyder and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell have grandfathered in Chief Zee, tone-deaf to the caricaturing of an ethnic minority, unable to see past a franchise’s symbolic touchstone.

Williams can’t see it, either, for that would mean giving up his identity. And he can’t have that. He’s been to too many games, showed up for too many charity events as that costumed Indian.

Trying to enlighten him is like trying to enlighten your half-cocked, old-head uncle who uses racial epithets at Thanksgiving dinner. At some point, you either let him eat or kick him out — and no one is kicking Williams out of his burgundy-and-gold bubble.