By Albert Lin
The pressure on owner Daniel Snyder to change the name of the National Football League’s Washington Redskins is increasing.
On Thursday, a letter signed by 49 United States Senators was sent to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, urging the league to back a name change for the franchise.
The letter referenced the quick and decisive action taken by National Basketball Association Commissioner Adam Silver in banning Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling for life and moving to force him to sell the team.
“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 senators wrote. “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.
“Now is the time for the NFL to act. 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 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.”
The letter was circulated by Senator Maria Cantwell of Washington among Democrats and was signed by nearly half the Senate, including Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and Independents Angus King of Maine and Bernie Sanders of Vermont, both of whom caucus with the Democrats.
Five Democratic senators who did not sign the letter are Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, both of Virginia; Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Joe Donnelly of Indiana and Joe Manchin of West Virginia. Bill Nelson of Florida also did not sign Cantwell’s letter, but he had already sent his own letter to Goodell a week earlier.
NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said in a statement: “We have not received the letter, but the NFL has long demonstrated a commitment to progressive leadership on issues of diversity and inclusion, both on and off the field. 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.”
Cantwell told The Washington Post that she hoped her Republican colleagues would also join the movement. On the Senate floor, she said, “I’m convinced that if each member of the body speaks on this issue, and is forceful in their resolve, that we can help initiate change.”
John McCain of Arizona said he probably would have signed the letter had he been asked, but several other Republicans told Politico that the Senate has more important things to be focusing on.
The drive to change the Redskins name has gained momentum in the last year, with the Oneida Indian Nation launching a campaign to rename the Redskins; President Obama saying he would “think about changing it“; and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office rejecting the use of the word “Redskins” as a brand name for pork rinds.
Last May, Snyder told USA Today: “We’ll never change the name. It’s that simple. NEVERyou can use caps.”