Fifty Democratic senators are pushing the NFL to change the name of the Washington Redskins, saying it mocks the culture of Native Americans.
In the largest call in Congress for a name change, the senators on Thursday urged NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to follow the lead of the NBA in punishing Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling for making racially insensitive remarks.
"The despicable comments made by Mr. Sterling have opened up a national conversation about race relations," read a letter spearheaded by Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidLynch meeting with Bill Clinton creates firestorm for email case The Hill's 12:30 Report Senate Dems: No August break without Zika deal MORE (D-Nev.) and Sen. Maria CantwellMaria CantwellMenendez rails against Puerto Rico bill for 4 hours on floor Week ahead: Wait drags on for energy talks The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE (D-Wash.). "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." [READ THE LETTER.]
More than 300 tribes representing more than 2 million people have endorsed a name change, they said. The senators pointed to a number of federal laws that protect Native Americans. And they lamented the "racial slur" that Native Americans are made to watch on Sundays.
"Every Sunday during football season, the Washington, D.C., football team mocks their culture," the senators said.
"The NFL can no longer ignore this and perpetuate the use of this name as anything but what it is: a racial slur. We urge the NFL to formally support and push for a name change for the Washington football team," they added.
Only five Democratic senators did not sign the letter, including both Virginia senators, Mark Warner and Tim Kaine. Sen. Mark Pryor (Ark.), a centrist lawmaker who is locked in a tough reelection fight, also did not sign the letter, along with Sens. Joe Donnelly (Ind.) and Joe Manchin (W.Va.).
No Republican, including Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), signed onto the letter. Earlier this month, he indicated that while he was not offended by the name, he would probably change it if he were the team’s owner.
In the past, Goodell has pointed to polling to show there is overwhelming support for keeping the name. He has also commended Redskins owner Dan Snyder for his outreach to Native American communities.
"The intent of the team’s name has always been to present a strong, positive and respectful image. The name is not used by the team or the NFL in any other context, though we respect those that view it differently," NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said in a statement.
In March, Snyder announced the creation of the Washington Redskins Original Americans Foundation, the result of months long research, and highlighted a number of donations the foundation had handed out. But Reid has called it only window dressing.
"Now is the time for the NFL to act," the senators wrote. "The Washington, D.C., football team is on the wrong side of history. What message does it send to punish slurs against African Americans while endorsing slurs against Native Americans?"
The Redskins declined to comment on the letter.
— Updated 11:53 a.m.