With state, local and national politicians having jumped into the Redskins name debate in recent years, it was inevitable that presidential contenders would have their say. Republican candidate Jeb Bush was asked about the issue this week, and he backed the team’s stance: that the name is not offensive, and that it should not be changed.
“I don’t think they should change it,” Bush said during an interview with Sirius XM’s POTUS Channel. “I don’t think politicians ought to be having any say about that, to be honest with you. I don’t find it offensive. Native American tribes generally don’t find it offensive.”
Bush, the former Florida governor, went on to describe “a similar kind of flap” at Florida State, where the school and the Seminole Tribe of Florida have a close and unusual bond. During Bush’s tenure, the university got a waiver from the NCAA to continue using its Seminole nickname.
“The Seminole Tribe itself kind of came to the defense of the university; [the issue] subsided,” Bush said in the Sirius XM interview. ” It’s a sport for crying out loud. It’s a football team. I mean, Washington has a huge fanbase. I just — I’m missing something here, I guess.”
Redskins owner Daniel Snyder made a $100,000 donation to Bush’s Right to Rise USA Super Pac in April, according to FEC records. Snyder and the Redskins have donated to politicians from both parties, although they have traditionally given more to Republicans.
The current administration has said the National Park Service would be unlikely to accommodate construction of a new Redskins stadium on the RFK Stadium site unless the team changes its name.
Hillary Clinton, the leading Democratic presidential candidate, answered a question about the Redskins name last year, saying “I think it’s insensitive and I think that there’s no reason for it to continue as the name of a team in our nation’s capital.”
The name issue has often broken down along party lines, at least at the national level. Last year, 50 Democratic members of the U.S. Senate sent letters to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell advocating a name change. Only five Democratic senators — two of whom represented Virginia — did not sign such a letter.
The Bush interview came on a new program called The Arena, hosted by ABC News’s Rick Klein and ESPN’s Andy Katz, and exploring the intersection of sports and politics. Which means Bush might not be the last Presidential candidate this cycle to weigh in on the Redskins.
UPDATE: DNC Chairwoman Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz blasted Bush in a statement issued later Wednesday.
“Jeb Bush’s support of the Washington football team’s name and mascot is extremely insulting to Native American people and is one of many reasons he will not earn the Native American vote,” the statement said in part. “The team’s name is a racial slur that perpetuates negative stereotypes of Native American people, and reduces proud cultures to an insulting caricature.”