Democrat blasts Redskins for 'disturbing' refusal to change NFL team's name

Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) is intensifying the pressure on Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder to change the team's nickname.


Snyder this month vowed he'll "never" rename the Redskins, despite the growing criticism from Native Americans and some members of Congress that the moniker debases the country's first inhabitants.

Norton on Thursday called Snyder's position "disturbing," arguing that the derogatory nature of "redskin" is something Snyder should recognize given the sensitivity he's shown surrounding his own Jewish heritage. 

Snyder in 2011 fought the Washington City Paper over a series of critical articles, claiming, among other things, that a photograph of him scribbled over with horns and a goatee was anti-Semitic.

"The centerpiece of his suit was a photo that he said disparaged him as a Jew. So here is a man who has shown sensibilities based on his own ethnic identity who refuses to recognize the sensibilities of American Indians," Norton told MSNBC's Luke Russert. 

"This is not about the First Amendment," she added. "This is about branding — whether you can brand, you can use a brand that disparages an ethnic group."

Norton's remarks came two days after a bipartisan group of House lawmakers sent a sharply worded letter to Snyder and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell urging them to drop the Redskins name in favor of something less offensive.

“Native Americans throughout the country consider the ‘R-word’ a racial, derogatory slur akin to the ‘N-word’ among African Americans or the ‘W-word’ among Latinos," the lawmakers wrote. "Such offensive epithets would no doubt draw wide-spread disapproval among the NFL’s fan base. Yet the national coverage of Washington’s NFL football team profits from a term that is equally disparaging to Native Americans.”

The letter was spearheaded by Democratic Rep. Eni Faleomavaega, of American Samoa, and endorsed by nine other lawmakers, including GOP Rep. Tom Cole (Okla.), a member of the Chickasaw Nation.

No stranger to controversy, Snyder has churned headlines over the years for actions as varied as illegally clear-cutting the federally protected parkland around his house to being the first NFL owner to charge fans to watch team practices.

The more politically charged fight over the Redskins name has dogged team owners long before Snyder's arrival in 1999. But the controversy has gained prominence with the growing outcry from Capitol Hill.

Snyder, for his part, has been defiant in the face of the criticism.

"We'll never change the name," he told USA Today earlier this month. "It's that simple. Never — you can use caps."

Norton floated the notion of changing "Redskins" to "Redtails," after the Tuskegee Airmen. 

"A much revered name," she said.

Norton said she's "not surprised" by the enduring popularity of the Redskins name, arguing that the relatively tiny numbers of Native Americans remaining in the United States give them little voice to make their case. 

"I'm not surprised that most Americans don't see any harm in the word. Most of us have had to be educated by Native Americans, who after all are only less than 2 percent of the population," she said. "They don't exactly have a microphone every day. With African-Americans, you know all about it."