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Harry Reid wants Washington Redskins to learn from NBA

The Senate majority leader called on the owner of the Washington Redskins to change the name of the football team a day after the NBA banned Donald Sterling.
Washington Redskins helmets lay on the ground during their game against the Oakland Raiders at on September 29, 2013 in Oakland, Calif.
Washington Redskins helmets lay on the ground during their game against the Oakland Raiders at on September 29, 2013 in Oakland, Calif.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid wants the National Football League to learn from this week's controversy within the National Basketball Association and change the name of the Washington Redskins.

Reid, speaking on the Senate floor on Wednesday, urged Redskins owner Dan Snyder to do what he called "morally right" a day after NBA commissioner Adam Silver banned Donald Sterling, the current owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, for life because of racist remarks he made to his girlfriend. Sterling confirmed that his voice was on an audio recording made public by TMZ last weekend, in which he made comments about African-Americans. He condemned his girlfriend for appearing in public with people of color.

"What tradition? A tradition of racism," said Reid, D-Nev. "Mr. Snyder knows that in sports the only tradition that matters is winning. So I urge Daniel Snyder to do what is morally right and remove this degrading term in a leap by changing his team's name."

Reid also noted the name-change of what is now the Washington Wizards from the Bullets, a move made 17 years ago by team owner Abe Pollin to disassociate his franchise from guns and violence in the D.C. area. He encouraged Snyder to invite fans to suggest alternative team names.

"But since Snyder fails to show any leadership, the National Football League should take an assist from the NBA and pick up the slack. It would be a slam dunk," Reid said. "For far too long the NFL has been sitting on its hands doing nothing."

Reid previously told The Washington Post that Snyder is on the "losing side of history."

Some Americans believe the meaning of the term "redskin" possesses 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, and has determined the word is a "derogatory slang" term.

A group of nine Democratic House lawmakers and one Republican renewed a decades-old debate about the controversial team name when they sent a letter last May to Snyder and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. 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.

Since the original letter, President Obama and some congressional leaders have voiced their support for a different team name. More recently, Snyder in March made public a foundation he secretly established to provide resources and opportunities for Native Americans, and to preserve the heritage of the Redskins team.