The National Football League is - once again - facing pressure from Congress.
This time, Washington Sen. Maria Cantwell and Oklahoma Rep. Tom Cole on Monday sent a letter to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell in support of changing the name of the Washington Redskins, calling the reference an “insult” to Native Americans. Cantwell is chairwoman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs and Cole is a co-chair of the Congressional Native American Caucus.
“For you to pretend that the name is defensible based on decade-old public opinion polling flies in the face of our constitutionality protected government-to-government relationship with tribes,” the bipartisan lawmakers wrote in the letter.
“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,” they added.
Some Americans believe the meaning of the term “redskin” contains negative racial connotations, and continue to debate the topic with the NFL. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office refused to register the team’s trademark before the turn of the century, and has since determined the word is a “derogatory slang” term.
A group of nine Democratic House lawmakers and one Republican sent a letter last May to Goodell and Dan Snyder, owner of the Redskins. They urged the two leaders to change what they called a “derogatory, demeaning, and offensive” name. The legislators who signed the letter were the same group of people that introduced a bill earlier in 2013 aiming to block companies from trademarking the term in reference to Native Americans.
Goodell sent a letter to Congress last June explaining his stance that the name was never meant to offend Native Americans. The commissioner more recently defended the term as an “honor” to Native Americans, last month during his pre-Super Bowl press conference.
President Obama voiced his support for a name-change last October, declaring that he would think about deserting the term if it upset several large groups of people, which it has done. The Oneida Indian Nation is one of the Native American groups leading the name-changing campaign, referred to as “Change the Mascot.”
“While the Washington team somehow claims that Congress has better things to do than intervene in a serious issue that involves taxpayer dollars, it is the exact opposite: Congress has a responsibility to the American people to put an end to this kind of taxpayer-subsidized bigotry,” Ray Halbritter, a representative of Oneida Nation, said Monday in response to the bipartisan letter.
The Washington team plays at FedExField, located in Maryland not far from the country’s capital.
Cantwell and Cole also said the NFL is on the “wrong side of history.”
“The National Football League can no longer ignore this and perpetuate the use of this name as anything but what it is: a racial slur,” they wrote. “It is clear that you haven’t heard the leading voices of this country - and not just Indian Country.”
The NFL made headlines on Sunday after football star Michael Sam told the New York Times he is gay. The former defensive end for Missouri could become the first openly gay NFL player if he is chosen in the upcoming draft.