NATIONAL FOOTBALL League Commissioner Roger Goodell can’t seem to make up his mind about the name of Washington’s football team.
He told Congress in June that “the name is a unifying force that stands for strength, courage, pride and respect.” Three months later came his observation, welcomed by those seeking to change the Redskins’ name (including us), that “If one person is offended, we have to listen.” More recently, he claimed that the team name has “honored” Native Americans and that more people favor the name than oppose it.
Two members of Congress made clear in a strongly worded letter to Mr. Goodell that this kind of fence-sitting — or fence-hopping — about the polarizing moniker is no longer tolerable. The name “is, in fact, an insult to Native Americans,” wrote Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) as they called on the NFL to take a formal position in support of a name change.
To drive home their point, the lawmakers cited the league’s tax-exempt status (under a provision for organizations whose primary purpose is furthering the industry they represent), which Ms. Cantwell told the New York Times she might consider revoking. “You’re getting a tax break for educational purposes, but you’re still embracing a name that people see as a slur and encouraging it,” said Ms. Cantwell, chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs.
We have long hoped team owner Daniel M. Snyder would change the name, not because of threats to the league’s tax status or to patent protection but because it is the right thing to do. “I wouldn’t want to use a word that defines a people — living or dead, offended or not — in a most demeaning way,” wrote Post columnist Charles Krauthammer in the best articulation of this reason. Unfortunately, judging by the team’s knee-jerk response to the Cantwell-Cole letter — essentially, it is none of their business — appeals to simple decency aren’t going to cut it.
Mr. Goodell can’t have it both ways. He can’t claim to listen to concerns about this truly offensive name and then tune them out. Perhaps he can’t force Mr. Snyder to change the team’s name, but he can say what he would do if he were in Mr. Snyder’s position, and he can enlist other owners to get the league on the right side of history.