Maryland delegates propose resolution urging Redskins to change team name

In the past few months, the D.C. Council has formally called for the Washington Redskins to change their name, as have several sports columnists and members of Congress. Even President Obama weighed in on the controversy.

Will the Maryland General Assembly be next?

Two Maryland delegates have proposed a resolution that urges the owner of the “professional football franchise to change the name of the football team” to something that “is not offensive to Native Americans or any other group.” Redskins owner Daniel Snyder has defended and stood by the name.

The Redskins play at FedEx Field in Prince George’s County, so there’s a need for Maryland lawmakers to take a formal stand against the name, said Del. C.T. Wilson (D), a sponsor of the resolution who represents Charles County, home to Piscataway tribes.

“It’s the least that we can do,” Wilson said during a hearing Monday afternoon. “And after all that our Native Americans have been through, after all that this country has put them through, it is the very least that we can do.”

Rico Newman, a former spokesman for the Choptico Band of the Piscataway Conoy Tribe, also testified, telling the lawmakers that leaving the name as it is harms the next generation of Native American children.

“Names hurt,” Newman said, “and this is a name that children use throughout this state and throughout this country to denigrate children they know are Native American. . . . Everybody in this room has some pejorative or epithet that can be called against you because of your nationality, your race, your religion. It’s hurtful. And it is hurtful to Native American children.”

The team name would be offensive anywhere, Wilson said, but it is especially offensive in the nation’s capital. Wilson explained that the term has been associated with the gruesome acts of genocide against the country’s original inhabitants. He said a decision about the future of the team name needs to be based on that history and not public opinion polls.

“How would you feel if Sambo’s restaurant still existed? Or if the Frito Bandito was still used?” Wilson said. “And these were just retail symbols. They weren’t on bumper stickers. They weren’t on jerseys.”

Lobbyist Bruce Bereano testified against the bill, saying that he represented only himself, a 45-year fan of the Washington Redskins. Bereano said that many people consider “Redskins” to be a “generic” term that is no more offensive than the logos of the Atlanta Braves and Cleveland Indians. He said this issue has been “predominantly whipped up” by the media.

“What I think is lost in this discussion is how is the term ‘redskins’ used, not just currently, but historically,” Bereano said. “Having been around so many Redskins fans, attended games, attended Super Bowls and other events . . . never once have I observed or seen any use of the term or the word in a derogatory, discriminating or disrespectful fashion.”

The team name has also been discussed by democratic candidates for governor. Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler (D) said in February that he is “extremely sympathetic” to calls for a new name but can see both sides of the argument. He offered up the name “Bravehearts” as an alternative.

That prompted Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown (D) — who lives in Prince George’s County — to say that “Redskins” is “an inappropriate name for any team, and I hope ownership will consider changing it.” Del. Heather R. Mizeur (D-Montgomery) said the name is “offensive and culturally insensitive” and should be put “on the shelf with other slanderous words whose time has passed.”

The House Rules and Executive Nominations Committee, which hosted the Monday hearing, has yet to take action on the proposed resolution.

Jenna Johnson writes about Maryland politics, including the General Assembly, the administration of Gov. Martin O'Malley and the 2014 election.
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