Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
February 9, 2016

50 Senators Tell NFL to Rename Washington Redskins (Video)

Washington Redskins senators NFL Roger Goodell Commissioner

Cantwell wants the NFL to rename the Washington Redskins. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Half of the Senate is urging NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to change the name of the Washington Redskins.

A letter led by Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., signed by 49 senators who caucus with the Democrats, urges Goodell to use NBA Commissioner Adam Silver’s decision to ban Los Angeles Clippers’ owner Donald Sterling as a precedent.

“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 senators called the name a slur against Native Americans.

“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.”

Signers included Maryland’s two senators, Barbara Mikulski and Ben Cardin. The Redskins play their home games in Maryland.

Reid has repeatedly called on the NFL to change the name, including last month on the Senate floor, when he urged the league to change the name and end what he called the Redskins’ “tradition of racism.”

Virginia’s two senators, Tim Kaine and Mark Warner, were among a handful of Democrats who did not sign the letter, along with Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, Joe Donnelly of Indiana and Mark Pryor of Arkansas.

A separate letter was sent to Goodell by Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., also calling for a name change.

Redskins owner Dan Snyder has repeatedly vowed never to change the name of the team.

Efforts by some in Congress to force a name change legislatively stalled last year.

The full text of the letter is below:

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.

 

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