Fifty senators wrote NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to officially call on the Washington franchise to change its team name from the Redskins.
“We urge the N.F.L. to formally support a name change for the Washington football team,” the letter read.
Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) circulated the letter, which was signed by half of the members of the Senate, including Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). The letter was only circulated among Democrats. The letter to Goodell marked the most significant congressional endorsement of a name change to date.
The senators said the team name is offensive to Native Americans and served as a “racial slur.”
“The N.F.L. can no longer ignore this and perpetuate the use of this name as anything but what it is: a racial slur,” the letter read.
The senators urged Goodell to follow the lead of NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, who recently banned Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling from the league over his statements on race.
“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,” the letter read. “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.”
The senators also said the franchise is on the “wrong side of history.”
Just five Democrats declined to sign the letter, including both Virginia senators, Mark Warner and Tim Kaine. The other Democrats who declined to endorse the letter were Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Joe Donnelly of Indiana.
Both Maryland senators — Democrats Ben Cardin and Barbara Mikulski — signed it.
Angus King of Maine and Bernie Sanders of Vermont — two independent senators who caucus with Democrats — endorsed as well.
Goodell and Redskins owner Dan Snyder have come under increasing pressure to change the team’s name. Snyder has held firm on his stance from last year when he said: “We’ll never change the name. It’s that simple. Never — you can use caps.”
Later on Thursday, the Oneida Indian Nation and the National Congress of American Indians released a statement applauding the senators for their letter. - Jonathan Topaz - Politico