NATIONAL FOOTBALL League Commissioner Roger Goodell defended the Washington Redskins’ name three months ago to members of Congress who had urged that it be changed.
“The Washington Redskins name has thus from its origin represented a positive meaning distinct from any disparagement that could be viewed in some other context,” Mr. Goodell wrote June 5. “For the team’s millions of fans and customers, who represent one of America’s most ethnically and geographically diverse fan bases, the name is a unifying force that stands for strength, courage, pride and respect.”
It therefore was a welcome development to hear this recent and more thoughtful response from Mr. Goodell: “We have to do everything that’s necessary to make sure that we’re representing the franchise in a positive way . . . and that if we are offending one person, we need to be listening and making sure that we’re doing the right things to try to address that.”
It’s unclear if Mr. Goodell’s nuanced pivot was directed toward team owner Daniel M. Snyder, but we hope Mr. Snyder was listening. We hope, too, that Mr. Snyder finally understands that the team’s name — no matter its storied tradition or importance to many fans — is a racial slur of Native Americans so offensive that it should no longer be tolerated. Imagine, as we wrote in 2006 advocating a name change, Mr. Snyder, or anyone else for that matter, sitting in a room with Native Americans and calling them “redskins.” Not likely. The name is offensive to a great many more than Mr. Goodell’s hypothetical one person.
Mr. Goodell’s most recent comments, in an appearance on WJFK-FM, made clear that any decision to change the team’s name ultimately lies with Mr. Snyder, who has been unequivocal about his opposition to a name change. “Never — you can use caps,” Mr. Snyder told USA Today in May.
If that’s the case, Mr. Snyder should be prepared for the controversy never to end. The clamor for change only grows with time. In addition to the letter from the aforementioned members of the Congressional Native American Caucus urging a change, some noted sportswriters — Sports Illustrated’s Peter King and USA Today’s Christine Brennan — have announced they will no longer use the name. Members of the Oneida Tribe of Indians of Wisconsin plan a protest at Sunday’s game with the Green Bay Packers.
We understand that changing the name is not a trifling matter. There is a cost (estimated by some to be as high as $20 million), but surely the owner of the NFL’s third-most valuable franchise can afford it. There is a recognition of the importance of tradition to many fans who mean absolutely no offense.
Perhaps there is even a fear that fans will desert or turn against the team if it changes its name. We think that underestimates Washington fans and their deep feelings for this team. We urge Mr. Snyder to have more faith than that in his fan base and to listen more carefully to those who love the team and hate the ethnic slur.