Official Congressional action needed on 'Washington Redskins'

On September 25, 1863, Minnesota offered up a $500 bounty for its citizens to kill Indians.  That’s right; the state actually bought an advertisement in the ‘Winona Daily Republican’, which read:

“The State reward for dead Indians has been increased to $200 for every redskin sent to Purgatory.”

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150 years later, Daniel Snyder, owner of the NFL’s Washington Redskins, and the NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell still use that vulgar word on a daily basis; and even market it to the world.

These two businessmen are on the wrong side of history and the word ‘redskins’ must be removed from the NFL.

We in the Native American community applaud the 50 U.S. Senators who, in May, sent a letter to Commissioner Goodell urging the NFL to endorse a name change for the team.

While very much appreciated, let’s face it, a letter is not going to move Daniel Snyder off the dime.  In fact, his rather dismissive response to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-0Nv.), through General Manager Bruce Allen, where the same old company line was rehashed, perfectly makes my point.

It’s time for Congress to stand as one, in a bipartisan fashion, and call on the NFL to fully eliminate the racial slur ‘redskin’ from the game.

Clearly Congress cannot compel Snyder to change the name; but surely an official ‘Sense of the Senate’ or a ‘House Resolution’ would send a clear message that the NFL has lost the support of the American people in this matter.

This is not an issue of the language police demanding that any word that offends anyone should be banned; but rational people do understand that there is a big difference between being offended by something and something being offensive.

As an example, would Commissioner Goodell ever allow a franchise to be called the ‘Blackskins’?

Of course not.  It’s absurd, racist, and insulting.  It would not offend just a few; it would be offensive to all!

Then how is a franchise called the ‘redskins’ any different?

The word redskins is universally insulting and rude to millions of Native Americans.  It is a contemptible word attached to an entire people, a race, a culture, and a heritage.  And it should have no place in the NFL.

Today no one in their right mind would call me an ‘injun’ or a ‘savage.’  These names are rightly considered detestable and today they are not used.  They were words once used by the exact same people who called my forefathers redskins; yet somehow the NFL doesn’t view that word as repugnant.

Earlier this year, Congress presented families of the code talkers in 33 tribes with the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest honor for distinguished service to our nation.  Yet other than a much appreciated senate letter, Congress has done nothing to make it emphatically clear to the NFL that the use of the word redskin will not stand.

Congress must act.  Period.

Goodell and Snyder would do the nation a great service by being an inspirational example and leading the way by banishing the word to the ash heap of history.

President Obama has made his feelings clear on the issue, 50 U.S. senators, tribal leaders, numerous other elected officials, politicians, and luminaries from business, entertainment and sports have also recommended a name change; and so it is now time for Congress to stand united, make a forceful statement, and act.

The Washington Redskins was once a symbol of NFL greatness; now it is seen as a relic of the past.  That the NFL would want to embrace and associate itself with such a name is not just a bad business decision, it shows NFL executives to be mired in the 1970s, instead of 2014.

The NFL is no longer hanging on to something of great respect; it is hanging by its fingernails on to something that is ugly.

No one is suggesting that Snyder or Goodell are racists.  They are excellent businessmen and clearly view this as a straight business decision; however, on this particular issue, they happen to be completely blind to the big picture, severely tone-deaf and, frankly, quite poor businessmen.

The Washington Redskins is a team.  It’s a thing.  Many NFL teams based in major markets have changed their names; Baltimore went from the Colts to the Ravens, Houston went from the Oilers to the Texans.

These newly named franchises have survived and they have flourished.  Sure, some fans may get angry, but isn’t it odd that they only stay angry until the first kick-off of the new football season; and then it becomes as comfortable as worn leather – and all is good again.

The name of the new Washington franchise will be embraced and it will succeed.  It will build on the traditions of the old team and make new memories under its new name.

But sadly, Snyder and Goodell seem to need a little bump, a slight nudge, and, perhaps, a jolting push into doing what is right.  And that means Congress must now officially go on record in opposing the name redskins.

Shepherd is the tribal chairman of Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate on the Lake Traverse Reservation, located at Sisseton, South Dakota. He is currently the secretary of the National Congress of American Indians, co-chair of the Tribal Interior Budget Council, the secretary/yreasurer of the United Tribes Technical College Board of Directors and vice-chairman of the Great Plains Tribal Chairman’s Association.