Roger Goodell defends Redskins nickname in a letter to Congress

June 12, 2013

Roger Goodell was asked about the Redskins’ nickname in February. (Charlie Riedel / AP)

At a Super Bowl press conference in February, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell deftly handled a question concerning the political correctness of the Washington Redskins’ nickname, saying he understood both sides of the issue.

The matter continues to make headlines, though, with 10 members of the Congressional Native American Caucus urging owner Daniel M. Snyder and Goodell to change the name in a letter last month. Snyder has not responded to the letter, but has said that “the Redskins will never change the name. It’s that simple. NEVER. You can put that in capital letters.”

Goodell was more expansive and equivocal in a June 5 letter to the caucus members. He outlined the history of the Redskins’ nickname, writing, “Neither in intent nor use was the name ever meant to denigrate Native Americans or offend any group.” Goodell also cited Native Americans and polls in support of the nickname.

“The Washington Redskins name has thus from its origin represented a positive meaning distinct from any disparagement that could be viewed in some other context,” he writes. “For the team’s millions of fans and customers, who represent one of America’s most ethnically and geographically diverse fan bases, the name is a unifying force that stands for strength, courage, pride and respect.”

Goodell notes that the issue is “complex” and “reasonable people may view it differently, particularly over time.”

“[W]e hope that there is no doubt that the team understandably is proud of its heritage and the culturally rich community it serves, and its fans understandably are highly attached to that history and the team’s history.

“The National Football League takes seriously its responsibility to exemplify the values of diversity and inclusion that make our nation great. To that end, please be assured that we are committed to working with the team, this Caucus and others to continue to reinforce the many positive attributes represented by the team’s name and marks.”

Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.), co-chair of the caucus, called Goodell’s letter “another attempt to justify a racial slur on behalf of Dan Snyder and other NFL owners who appear to be only concerned with earning ever larger profits, even if it means exploiting a racist stereotype of Native Americans. For the head of a multi-billion dollar sports league to embrace the twisted logic that ‘Redskin’ actually ‘stands for strength, courage, pride, and respect’ is a statement of absurdity.”

McCollum asks: “Would Roger Goodell and Dan Snyder actually travel to a Native American community and greet a group of tribal leaders by saying, ‘Hey, what’s up, redskin?’”

Rep. Eni Faleomavaega (D-American Samoa) said in a statement that Goodell had “missed the point” about the nickname. “You cannot have it both ways. Whether good intentioned or not, the fact of the matter is that the term ‘Redskin’ is a racial slur that disparages Native Americans. It is time for the NFL to stop making excuses for itself and fully embrace its so-called commitment to diversity.”

Here’s the full text of Goodell’s letter (via IndianCountryTodayMediaNetwork.com):

Thank you for your letter of May 13 regarding the Washington Redskins name and marks. The National Football League fully respects the views of the Caucus and other Members who have expressed interest in this matter and we appreciate the opportunity to respond to your concerns.

In our view, a fair and through discussion of the issue must begin with an understanding of the roots of the Washington franchise and the Redskins name in particular. As you may know, the team began as the Boston Braves in 1932, a name that honored the courage and heritage of Native Americans. The following year, the name was changed to the Redskins, in part to avoid confusion with the Boston baseball team of the same name, but also to honor the team’s then-head coach, William “Lone Star” Dietz. Neither in intent nor use was the name ever meant to denigrate Native Americans or offend any group.

The Washington Redskins name has thus from its origin represented a positive meaning distinct from any disparagement that could be viewed in some other context. For the team’s millions of fans and customers, who represent one of America’s most ethnically and geographically diverse fan bases, the name is a unifying force that stands for strength, courage, pride and respect.

Importantly, this positive meaning is shared by the overwhelming majority of football fans and Americans generally, including Native Americans. (Attached as examples are recent remarks from Chief Steven Dodson, an American Inuit chief and resident of Prince Georges [sic] County, Maryland, and recently retired Chief Robert Green of the Patawomeck Tribe of Virginia.) Indeed, the most recent detailed survey of Native Americans, conducted by the independent and highly respected Annenberg Public Policy Center, found that fewer than 10% considered the name objectionable. Among the general public, an Associated Press survey conducted just two months ago found that only 11% felt it should be changed.

Public opinion aside, the Washington Redskins name has been confirmed in a legal context. When the matter was considered by the D.C. federal district court, the judge ruled against the plaintiffs and recognized that the name was been used by the team in a respectful manner. As I understand it, this ruling reversed the decision that informed the basis for the registration denials mentioned in your letter.

As you correctly recognize, the issued raised with respect to the Washington Redskins name are complex and we respect that reasonable people may view it differently, particularly over time. But we hope that there is no doubt that the team understandably is proud of its heritage and the culturally rich community it serves, and its fans understandably are highly attached to that history and the team’s history.

The National Football League takes seriously its responsibility to exemplify the values of diversity and inclusion that make our nation great. To that end, please be assured that we are committed to working with the team, this Caucus and others to continue to reinforce the many positive attributes represented by the team’s name and marks.

Thank you again for your interest.

Sincerely,

Roger Goodell

Follow @CindyBoren on Twitter and on Facebook.

After spending most of her career in traditional print sports journalism, Cindy began blogging and tweeting, first as NFL/Redskins editor, and, since August 2010, at The Early Lead. She also is the social media editor for Sports.
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Cindy Boren · June 12, 2013

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