The congressional push to urge the Washington Redskins to change the team’s name has heretofore mostly been coming from the House, with D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) and nine other members of Congress firing off letters a year ago to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, team owner Dan Snyder, the 31 other NFL franchises, and Redskins’ sponsor FedEx to urge that the team’s name be changed.
Also last spring, American Samoa Del. Eni Faleomavaega (D) introduced a bill, co-sponsored by those who signed the letter, to cancel existing trademark registrations containing the term “redskin,” and deny registration for new trademarks using the term.
Today, though, half of the Senate jumped on the NFL’s back in an effort to force a name change — using the NBA swift punishment of L.A. Clippers’ owner Donald Sterling to say the NFL shouldn’t tolerate a racist team name.
The letter to Goodell, led by Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), stresses that “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,” write the 50 senators, all Democrats and Independents.
“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?”
The senators also argued that changing the Redskins name is an issue of tribal sovereignty. These are all federal laws intended to protect and respect tribal culture and identity,” the letter states. “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.”
Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) separately sent a letter to Goodell lobbying for a name change.
Goodell has said previously that it’s up to Snyder, since it’s his team.
In April, Snyder pointed to his recent formed foundation to help American Indian tribes and said people should focus on those issues, not a name.
“We understand the issues out there, and we’re not an issue,” Snyder said. “The real issues are real-life issues, real-life needs, and I think it’s time that people focus on reality.”