The letter by Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) is to be sent Monday to Goodell.
âThe NFL can no longer ignore this and perpetuate the use of this name as anything but what it is: a racial slur,â Cantwell and Cole write in the letter. âIt is clear that you havenât heard the leading voices of this country âÂ and not just Indian Country. Virtually every major civil rights organization in America has spoken out in opposition to this name including the NAACP, the Anti-Defamation League, the Rainbow Coalition and the League of United Latin American Citizens.â
The letter mentions the leagueâs tax-exempt status and says the league is âon the wrong side of history. It is not appropriate for this multibillion dollar âŚ tax-exempt organization to perpetuate and profit from the continued degradation of tribes and Indian people. It is time for the National Football League to formally support and push for a name change for the Washington football team.”
Redskins spokesman Tony Wyllie responded in a written statement: “With all the important issues Congress has to deal with, such as a war in Afghanistan to deficits to health care, don’t they have more important issues to worry about than a football team’s name? And given the fact that the name of Oklahoma means ‘Red People’ in Choctaw, this request is a little ironic.”
Goodell said late last month at his annual news conference at the Super Bowl that the NFL was âlisteningâ to and âbeing respectfulâ to those who have expressed opposition to the Redskinsâ name. But Goodell also said during that Jan. 31 news conference in New York that the team has âhonoredâ Native Americans with its use of the name.
âIâve been spending the last year talking to many of the leaders in the Native American communities,â Goodell said then. âWe are listening. We are trying to make sure we understand the issues. Let me remind you: This is the name of a football team, a football team thatâs had that name for 80 years and has presented the name in a way that it has honored Native Americans.â
âÂ Related:Â Previous Insider posts on the team’s name
Cantwell and the committee have been talking to the league for several months. The letter comes after Goodell’s comments during his state-of-the-NFL address Â before the Super Bowl took a different tone than his previous statement on the issue.
Redskins owner Daniel Snyder and other team officials have said they donât plan to change the name.
âWe recognize that there are some that donât agree with the name, and we have listened and respected that,â Goodell said at his Super Bowl week news conference. âBut if you look at the numbers, including in the Native American communities â in the Native American community polled, nine out of 10 supported the name. Eight out of 10 Americans in the general population would not like us to change the name. So we are listening. We are being respectful to people who disagree. But letâs not forget this is the name of a football team.”
The letter is significant because each lawmaker has the perch to increase the public pressure on Snyder and the Redskins.
Cantwell is chairman of Senate Indian Affairs Committee, holding both the power to hold hearings and issue subpoenas. That panel helped drive the investigation into the felonious lobbying activities of Jack Abramoff and his associates, for fleecing tribal clients.
Cole is a very popular member on both sides of the aisle and a senior member of the appropriations committee, which has in the past been used as a battleground to impose Congress’s will on certain subjects. NASCAR and the Defense Department, for instance, have battled appropriators who’ve tried to limit the Pentagon’s ability to sponsor race cars and events.Â Cole, a member of the Chickasaw tribe, is one of just two Native Americans in Congress, according to the Congressional Research Service.
âSaying the Washington football team âhonored Native Americansâ perpetuates a charade that dishonors native people and their governments andÂ erodes the reputation of the National Football League,â they wrote to Goodell. âWe believe that the fact that this term does not honor âÂ but rather disparages âÂ Indian people and tribes is what will and should guide federal policymakers.â
An NFL spokesman said the league will respond âin an appropriate mannerâ when it receives the letter.
NFL officials met in October with representatives of the Oneida Indian Nation, which has expressed opposition to the Redskinsâ name.
The day before Goodellâs news conference in New York, DeMaurice Smith, the executive director of the NFL Players Association, said it was appropriate for the sportâs leaders and interested parties to have a âbroad discussionâ about the teamâs name.
âI grew up a Redskin fan and I grew up in Washington,â Smith told a Washington Post reporter after the unionâs annual Super Bowl news conference. âAnd as weâve said before, I think weâre in a better world if weâre not intentionally offending anyone. I think that any time we engage in a broad discussion, whether it be with fans or other interested parties about how to do our jobs better, and that might include the Redskin name, I think thatâs positive.â