Redskins Helmet

Congressional support is growing for a change to the name of Washington's pro-football team.

As I have previously discussed, momentum has been building to change the nickname of the Washington, DC professional football team, on the grounds that it is offensive to Native Americans. Thus I noted in March that ten representatives and delegates in the House of Representatives introduced a bill to amend the 1946 Lanham Act governing trademarks so as to cancel protection for the nickname. The bill was referred to committee.

Now a group from the same body, with some overlap in the signatories, has written directly to the team owner as well as the NFL Commissioner, the owners of the 31 other NFL franchises, and the CEO of FedEx (an important sponsor) to urge a name change. The letter says

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. 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.

And it also says

In this day and age, it is imperative that you uphold your moral responsibility to disavow the usage of racial slurs. The usage of the [“R-word”] is especially harmful to Native American youth, tending to lower their sense of dignity and self-esteem. It also diminishes feelings of community worth among the Native American tribes and dampens the aspirations of their people.

The most prominent signatories in both actions are this mini-movement’s leader, Del. Eni F.H. Faleomavaega (D-American Samoa), the co-chairs of the Congressional Native American Caucus Tom Cole (R-OK) and Betty McCollum (D-MN), and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC).

A spokesman for the team had no comment.

As a recent discussion in The Atlantic points out, the proposed change is “Unpopular, Insufficient, and Necessary.” Earlier this month a poll found that 79% of Americans favor keeping the name — and probably the percentage of the specific team’s fans is even higher (which is why this letter will not likely be the tipping point). Meanwhile, a name change will not in itself cure alcoholism or find jobs for youth on reservations. Still, it is something that needs to happen.

Photo by Keith Allison released under a Creative Commons Share Alike license.

E. F. Beall

E. F. Beall