May 22 (Bloomberg) -- Half of the U.S. Senate is urging National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell to support a name change for the Washington Redskins.
Citing the quick action taken by National Basketball Commissioner Adam Silver this month to ban Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling for life for making racist remarks, 49 Democratic senators wrote a letter to Goodell urging the team to drop the Redskins nickname. Bill Nelson, a Democratic senator from Florida, wrote his own letter to Goodell requesting the change, according to the Associated Press.
“Now is the time for the NFL to act,” said the letter from the senators, which is posted on the website of ChangeTheMascot.Org, which has been campaigning to force the name change since September. “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?”
Redskins owner Daniel Snyder has said repeatedly that he won’t change the name of the team as its intent is to honor Native Americans. In March, he announced the creation of a foundation to aid Native Americans after the team visited dozens of reservations. Snyder paid a record $800 million for the Redskins in 1999. The team is now worth $1.7 billion, according to Forbes.
Tony Wyllie, a spokesman for the Redskins, didn’t immediately return an e-mail seeking comment. The NFL has not received the letter, spokesman Brian McCarthy said in an e-mail.
“But the NFL has long demonstrated a commitment to progressive leadership on issues of diversity and inclusion, both on and off the field,” McCarthy said. “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 letter was circulated by Washington Senator Maria Cantwell and endorsed by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, though not among any Republicans, according to the New York Times, which reported the letter today.
Five Senate Democrats did not sign the letter: Mark Warner and Tim Kaine of Virginia, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Joe Donnelly of Indiana and Mark Pryor of Arkansas.
The NBA is preparing to vote on whether to force 80-year-old Sterling, the league’s longest-tenured owner, to sell his franchise after audio surfaced of him telling a woman not to bring black people to his games.
“The despicable comments made by Mr. Sterling have opened up a national conversation about race relations,” the senators’ letter said. “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.”
U.S. President Barack Obama said in an interview with the Associated Press in October that, if he owned the Redskins, he would consider changing the nickname.
The Oneida Indian Nation, which created the ChangeTheMascot campaign, and the National Congress of American Indians said in a news release that it applauded the letter.
“The name of Washington’s NFL team is widely recognized as a racial slur,” Jacqueline Pata, executive director of the National Congress of American Indians, said in a statement. “The NFL is a global brand, but if it wants to contribute to the positive image of the United States across the world, rather than callously promoting discrimination against Native Americans, then it must stop promoting this slur and finally change the name.”
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