Senators Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy joined 48 other senators calling for the name of the NFL's Washington franchise to be changed. The letter to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell referenced the NBA's response to the Donald Sterling controversy regarding comments Sterling made about African-Americans.
“The despicable comments made by Mr. Sterling have opened up a national conversation about race relations," the letter says. "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.”
Team owner Dan Snyder has repeatedly asserted that he would not change his team's name. In a letter to season-ticket holders last year, Snyder said the team name "was, and continues to be, a badge of honor." He wrote:
I’ve listened carefully to the commentary and perspectives on all sides, and I respect the feelings of those who are offended by the team name. But I hope such individuals also try to respect what the name means, not only for all of us in the extended Washington Redskins family, but among Native Americans too.
Snyder quoted Robert Green, the recently retired Chief of the Patawomeck Tribe, who supports the football team's name. More from the letter:
I would be offended if they did change [the name, Redskins ... This is] an attempt by somebody ... to completely remove the Indian identity from anything and pretty soon ... you have a wipeout in society of any reference to Indian people ... You can’t rewrite history -- yes there were some awful bad things done to our people over time, but naming the Washington football team the Redskins, we don’t consider to be one of those bad things.”
Listen to Green's full comments on a SiriusXM NFL Radio show:
Paul Lukas runs the blog Uni-Watch and also writes about sports imagery for ESPN. He wrote about his opposition to the use of Native American imagery in sports, "but not for the reasons you might think." He shared similar comments on WNPR's Where We Live in 2012.
Lukas said that some Native American imagery is offensive but it's also not a sports franchise's to use. "When you systematically destroy a culture," said Lukas, "it seems to me the least you could do is not use their imagery, their iconography and so forth, as if it were yours, and to then use it to sell things, which is what's done at the higher levels of sports."
Although the term "redskin" was used by Native Americans as a self-identifier, NPR Code Switch blogger Lakshmi Gandhi explains that, "At around the same time the word "redskin" was becoming a word with negative connotations, other Native American words and images were becoming increasingly popular symbols for sports teams."
If history is any indication, the letter from these U.S. senators probably won't convince the NFL's Washington franchise to change their name, at least not while Dan Snyder is in charge.
Update: The NFL released a statement on the letter:
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 name is not used by the team or the NFL in any other context, though we respect those that view it differently.
The Redskins organization declined comment on Thursday morning.