Vincent Gray backs off Redskins name-change comments

February 8, 2013

Gray said he did not mean to indicate that the Redskins name could prevent the team’s relocation to the District. (Bill O’Leary/The Washington Post)

Updated 12:40 p.m. with team response.

A month ago, Mayor Vincent C. Gray stirred an already boiling pot by suggesting that a name change for the Washington Redskins would have to be discussed should the team pursue a move to the District.

“I would love to be able to sit down with the team … and see if a change should be made,” he said on Jan. 9. “There’s a precedent for this, and I think there needs to be a dispassionate discussion about this, and do the right thing.”

But Native American activists and others who have lauded those comments may want to temper their enthuisiasm. In a Thursday interview with Washington Post reporters and editors, Gray backed off, explaining that his original remarks were meant to acknowledge that the likely site of a new Redskins stadium — on the site of the old RFK Stadium — is federal property. The name, Gray said, could complicate the process of winning federal approval.

“The point I was trying to make at the time was … it’s sitting on federal land,” he said. “You know that issue will come up if that’s the proposal, to build the stadium there. That was the point I was making.”

He added that his remarks unfairly “morphed” into reports from The Post and other outlets — seizing on comments like “the team is going to have to work with us around that issue” — suggesting he personally supported a name change.

Speculation about Gray’s personal feelings toward the Redskins name amplified this week when he referred only to “our Washington football team” in a State of the District address laden with sports metaphors.

But Gray said he did not intend to make a point disapproving of the team name. “I was trying to avoid more controversy around this,” he said, noting that his earlier Redskins remarks overshadowed coverage of other matters discussed at a news conference that day: “I wasn’t going to let my State of the District speech become the ‘Washington football team’ story.”

Gray also said his comments became a topic of conversation when he ran into Redskins General Manager Bruce Allen at last month’s Alfalfa Club dinner. “The first thing he says to me was, ‘So you want to change the name, huh?’ So I said, ‘Bruce, can I explain to you exactly what happened?’ I just didn’t want to go through those explanations anymore. So they’re the ‘Washington football team.’ ”

A name change or discussion of a name change would not be a precondition for the team moving to the District, Gray said.

While he said there are no active talks about a relocation, he said that team owner Daniel M. Snyder personally told him last year that he would like to move the team back into the city from its current home at FedEx Field in Prince George’s County.

“The Redskins have made it clear,” Gray said. “Dan Snyder would like to have the team back here, yes.” As for discussions of whether Snyder would be willing to finance a new stadium, he said, “we didn’t get that far.”

Team spokesman Tony Wyllie declined to comment Friday.

Jonathan O’Connell contributed to this item.

Mike DeBonis covers local politics and government for The Washington Post. He also writes a blog and a political analysis column that runs on Fridays.
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Mike DeBonis · February 8, 2013