About half of the Senate — the Democratic half, that is — is joining the growing chorus of Americans asking the Washington Redskins football team to change its name. On Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) sent a letter, co-signed by 47 senators, to National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell, requesting that the NFL “take action to remove the racial slur from the name of one of its marquee franchises.” Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL), who described himself as “one of [the Redskins’] great fans for both the game and [the Redskins] personally,” wrote to the NFL separately, saying that the name is not “appropriate in this day and age.” But not even the United States Senate can convince Redskins’ owner Daniel Snyder and the NFL to show a little respect for critics.
Prominent figures and fans, including President Obama, have long urged Snyder to reconsider the epithet that serves as both his team’s name and mascot. And the Washington, D.C. team is no stranger to government intervention, or to racial controversy. In 1962, the John F. Kennedy administration took issue with the team’s 25-year ban on black players, and offered then-team owner George Preston Marshall a choice — either integrate, or face federal sanctions that would potentially deny the team the use of the newly built D.C. stadium. While this initially generated cries of Big Government overstepping its bounds, public opinion was solidly set against the Redskins’ blatant racism, and eventually Marshall caved, and began hiring black players.
Today, Snyder faces similarly mounting public dissatisfaction with his continued refusal to change the team name. Many prominent sports journalists have publicly criticized the use of the epithet, and the team is even in the midst of a lawsuit. Last year, President Obama told the Associated Press, “If I were the owner of the team and I knew that there was a name of my team — even if it had a storied history — that was offending a sizeable group of people, I’d think about changing it.”
Obama is not the team’s owner, however, and neither the NFL nor Snyder appear to be on the same page with the president when it comes to racial sensitivity. In a written response to the letter, NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said “diversity and inclusion” are important aspects of the NFL, and that “the intent of the team’s name has always been to present a strong, positive and respectful image.” Apparently, for the NFL, as long as intentions are pure, it doesn’t at all matter how offensive the reality of the situation may be. McCarthy continued, “The name is not used by the team or the NFL in any other context, though we respect those that view it differently.” Just not enough to change it, apparently.
The term “redskin,” which was originally coined to refer to Native use of vermilion face and body paint, is widely defined as a pejorative term, cited as discriminatory and offensive by dictionaries, encyclopedias, and Native Americans themselves. While the sports world was quick to condemn Donald Sterling for his racist comments about black people, the same consideration is not being given to the Native population.
The Senate’s letter to the NFL reads, “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?”
For the NFL and Snyder, that message doesn’t matter, as long as they get to keep their precious team name.
Photo Credit: AFP/Patrick McDermott
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