Half of the US Senate is calling on the NFL to condemn the Washington Redskins' team name and push for it to be changed, saying that the name is no more than a racial slur and can no longer be ignored. "Now is the time for the NFL to act," the Democratic senators write in a letter sent today to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. "The Washington, DC football team is on the wrong side of history."
Noting that Americans applauded the NBA's quick and decisive actions against Clippers owner Donald Sterling after a recording of him making racist remarks surfaced online last month, the senators say that a conversation around race relations has opened up that serves as an opportunity for the NFL to send the same message: "that racism and bigotry have no place in professional sports."
"Racism and bigotry have no place in professional sports."The letter was signed by 49 senators, led by Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and majority leader Harry Reid (D-NV). Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) sent a separate letter calling for the name to be changed as well. Though the removal of racist sports mascots and names has been an ongoing issue for decades now, recent protests have brought renewed attention to remaining high-profile examples. The Redskins' name has been at the forefront of that battle, though its owner, Daniel Snyder, has refused to budge on the issue.
The NFL tells ESPN that it has not yet received the letter and that it believes the team's name is used respectfully. "The NFL has long demonstrated a commitment to progressive leadership on issues of diversity and inclusion, both on and off the field," a spokesperson says. "The intent of the team's name has always been to present a strong, positive and respectful image. The team name is not used by the team or the NFL in any other context, though we respect those that view it differently."
That's a lot of people. The senators say that over 300 tribes and organizations representing over 2 million Native Americans have called for a change to the team's name. They point Goodell toward the National Congress of American Indians' Proud to Be video, which was released shortly before the Super Bowl and is meant to share its viewpoint on the team's name. The senators also cite a number of laws passed by Congress aimed at supporting Native Americans. "These are all federal laws intended to protect and respect tribal culture and identity," they write. "Yet every Sunday during football season, the Washington, DC football team mocks their culture."
Update May 22nd, 4:30PM: this article has been updated to included a statement from the NFL.