When it comes to deciding whether the Redskins should keep their trademark, Congress now has the ball. But local lawmakers don’t appear eager to run with it.
Two weeks ago, Del. Eni Faleomavaega (D-American Samoa) introduced a bill in the House that would prohibit all federal trademarks, including existing ones, that use “Redskins” to refer to Native Americans. The measure comes as a three-judge panel on the federal Trademark Trial and Appeal Board is also weighing whether the term should be deemed an ethnic slur unworthy of trademark protection.
Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), who has said publicly that the Redskins “should consider” changing their name, was an original co-sponsor of the trademark bill. Eight other House members have signed on, but not a single lawmaker from Maryland or Virginia has done so.
Does that mean area members oppose the bill? Not exactly. They just don’t want to talk about it.
The Washington Post contacted the office of every local House member — Virginia Reps. Gerald Connolly (D), James P. Moran Jr. (D), Rob Wittman (R) and Frank Wolf (R), and Maryland Reps. John Delaney (D), Donna Edwards (D), Steny Hoyer (D), John Sarbanes (D) and Chris Van Hollen (D) — to ask whether they supported the measure. Not one was willing to take a position.
A few spokesmen said they would check on the issue, then never followed up with a response. Another said his boss hadn’t thought about it. And several offices simply never responded at all.
The story was similar in the Senate, where as of now, no companion bill has been introduced. Maryland Sens. Ben Cardin (D) and Barbara Mikulski (D) have not taken a position on the House bill, according to aides, while Virginia Sens. Timothy M. Kaine (D) and Mark Warner (D) declined to comment.
The issue is a touchy one. The Redskins, who have not commented on the House bill, have fought to preserve their trademark and have argued that the term is not offensive. Many Native American groups disagree, and fans — otherwise known as “voters” — appear to be split on the question.
Members of Congress may never have to take a firm position on the House bill. There are no current plans to hold a hearing on the measure, much less bring it to a vote. The bill has been referred to the Judiciary Committee, chaired by Virginia Rep. Robert Goodlatte (R). His office actually had a comment, sort of.
A committee aide, requesting anonymity to discuss the panel’s internal decisions, said: “Thousands of bills are referred to the House Judiciary Committee each year and we will carefully review each bill in time.”