Members of Congress link NBA’s Sterling controversy to NFL’s debate over Redskins


Asantewaa Nkrumah-Ture, Mike Wang and Zorayda Moreira-Smith protest the name of the Washington Redskins in the shadow of FedEx Field on Nov. 25. (Evelyn Hockstein /For The Washington Post)

A victory over racism in the NBA? How about the NFL and the Redskins? That’s the link made Wednesday by members of Congress who are set on forcing the Washington team to abandon its controversial name.

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), the District’s nonvoting member of Congress, sought to capi­tal­ize on the National Basketball Association’s swift action against Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling, saying the National Football League could learn a lesson about dealing with racism in its ranks.

Norton called on NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to follow the “moral example” of NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, who on Tuesday banned Sterling for life from the league over comments about African Americans.

“It shows a big difference between two major sports leaders,” Norton said in an interview. “One was willing to act and clearly separate his league from racism. The other is appearing to condone it by not even requesting [Redskins owner Daniel] Snyder to change the name.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) went further, saying that national outrage should now be directed toward the NFL for its refusal to change the name of the Washington Redskins.

“How long will the NFL continue to do nothing — zero — as one of its teams bears a name that inflicts so much pain on Native Americans?” Reid asked.

Spokesmen for the NFL and the Redskins did not immediately return messages seeking comment.

Norton said she is sensitive to the idea that the Redskins controversy is not exactly parallel to Sterling’s comments but that she hoped for a carryover effect.

“I’m not asserting that Snyder’s comments are the exact equivalent, but they have, on our native people, the same effect as Sterling’s on African Americans,” she said. “The only difference is that Native Americans have to see that name everywhere, all the time, where [Sterling’s] was a one-time exposure to a man who apparently holds deep racial views.”

Last fall, the D.C. Council also voted overwhelmingly to call on the team to change its name, saying it is widely recognized as “racist and derogatory.”

Council member David Grosso (I-At Large), who introduced the name-change resolution, said from the dais that the notion that the “Redskins” name should be kept as a symbol of the team’s heritage “is akin to saying to the Native American people . . . your pain has less worth than our football memories.”

Snyder has made more than a dozen visits to Indian reservations to build support for keeping the team name. Last fall, he wrote a letter to fans describing the team’s name as a “badge of honor.”

Norton said there is no such quality in the name. Goodell, she said, should pull a Silver and finally take a forceful stand with Snyder.

“This rookie did not hesitate to lead,” she said of Silver. “Goodell has now seen what leadership in sports means. He ought to find a way, in his own way, to bring the same leadership.”

Ed O’Keefe contributed to this report.

Aaron Davis covers D.C. government and politics for The Post and wants to hear your story about how D.C. works — or how it doesn’t.
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