Two members of the U.S. Congress sent a letter yesterday to Roger Goodell, commissioner of the National Football League (NFL), asking that the league change the Washington Redskins’ controversial name and logo.
Senator Maria Cantwell, a Democrat from Washington State and chairwoman of the Indian Affairs Committee, and Representative Tom Cole, a Republican from Oklahoma and member of the Native American Caucus, wrote that “The NFL can no longer ignore this and perpetuate the use of this name as anything but what it is: a racial slur,” adding that the league was on the “wrong side of history.” The letter also questions the NFL’s 501(c)(6) tax-exempt status.
The Redskins franchise, which has a profile of a Native American man as its logo, has recently come under fire by groups like the NAACP, the Anti-Defamation League and the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI). However, the Redskins responded to Monday’s letter with a statement saying it received more than 7,000 letters and emails in favor of keeping the name, with “almost 200 from people who identified themselves as Native Americans or as family members of Native Americans.”
The NFL continues to stand by the team and its owner, Dan Snyder, claiming that public opinion favors the current name. At a press conference before the Super Bowl last month, Goodell cited a survey of 768 self-identified Indians or Native Americans conducted by the University of Pennsylvania in 2004 that found that only 9 percent found the Redskins’ name offensive. Another national study done by Public Policy Polling in January of this year found that 71 percent of Americans oppose a name change, 18 percent support it, and 11 percent are undecided. But some Native American leaders have questions the validity of such studies.
Last year, the NCAI called for the end of Native American stereotypes and mascots in professional and recreational sports, and aired an ad prior to this year’s Super Bowl that said the term “Redskins” is “the one thing Native Americans do not call themselves.” In addition to the Redskins, other professional teams using Native American names and imagery include the Kansas City Chiefs (football), the Atlanta Braves (baseball), and the Cleveland Indians (baseball), among others.