Two members of Congress wrote to National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell on Monday, asking the league to support a name change for the Washington Redskins.
Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., and Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., are asking the NFL "to take a formal position in support of a name change."
Cole and Cantwell wrote that the NFL is “on the wrong side of history. It is not appropriate for this multibillion dollar… tax-exempt organization to perpetuate and profit from the continued degradation of tribes and Indian people. It is time for the National Football League to formally support and push for a name change for the Washington football team.”
“Saying the Washington football team ‘honored Native Americans’ perpetuates a charade that dishonors native people and their governments and erodes the reputation of the National Football League,” the letter states. “We believe that the fact that this term does not honor — but rather disparages — Indian people and tribes is what will and should guide federal policymakers.”
Cantwell, chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, has the power to hold hearing and issue subpoenas.
“The NFL can no longer ignore this and perpetuate the use of this name as anything but what it is: a racial slur,” the letter states. “It is clear that you haven’t heard the leading voices of this country — and not just Indian Country. Virtually every major civil rights organization in America has spoken out in opposition to this name including the NAACP, the Anti-Defamation League, the Rainbow Coalition and the League of United Latin American Citizens.”
Redskins spokesman Tony Wyllie said Congress should have better things to do.
“With all the important issues Congress has to deal with such as a war in Afghanistan to deficits to health care, don’t they have more important issues to worry about than a football team’s name?" Wyllie asked.
He also made a dig at Rep. Cole.
"And given the fact that the name of Oklahoma means ‘Red People’ in Choctaw, this request is a little ironic,” Wyllie said.
Oklahoma was settled after the Indian Appropriation Act of 1889 allowing white settlement in Native American territory. It became a state in 1907. No admitted state has ever changed its name, when no change of territory has been involved.
When the Redskins were formed in 1933, they were named the Braves. They changed their name to Redskins when they moved to Washington in 1937.
Goodell announced last month that the league was “being respectful” and “listening” to those who oppose the Redskins name.
“I’ve been spending the last year talking to many of the leaders in the Native American communities,” Goodell said on Jan. 31. “We are listening. We are trying to make sure we understand the issues. Let me remind you: This is the name of a football team, a football team that’s had that name for 80 years and has presented the name in a way that it has honored Native Americans.”
Redskins owner Daniel Snyder has repeatedly said he will not change the team’s name.
Three other NFL teams originally had different team names, including the New York Jets, the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Tennessee Titans.