Encouraged by the NBA’s rapid response to the Donald Sterling controversy, 50 U.S. senators petitioned NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell Thursday to change the Washington Redskins team name.
“Today, we urge you and the National Football League to send the same clear message as the NBA did: that racism and bigotry have no place in professional sports. It’s time for the NFL to endorse a name change for the Washington, D.C. football team,” Washington Senator Maria Cantwell wrote in a letter signed by 46 other Democrats and two Independents.
“The despicable comments made by Mr. Sterling have opened up a national conversation about race relations,” the letter continues. “We believe this conversation is an opportunity for the NFL to take action to remove the racial slur from the name of one of its marquee franchises.”
The NFL countered that the Redskins name is intended to represent a “strong, positive and respectful image.”
“The NFL has long demonstrated a commitment to progressive leadership on issues of diversity and inclusion, both on and off the field,” VP of Communications Brian McCarthy said in a statement. “The intent of the team’s name has always been to present a strong, positive and respectful image. The name is not used by the team or the NFL in any other context, though we respect those that view it differently.”
The letter was only circulated among Democrats and the two Independent senators — Angus King of Maine and Bernie Sanders of Vermont — who caucus with them. Florida Senator Bill Nelson, also a Democrat, wrote his own letter to Goodell in support of a name change.
The two Democratic senators from Virginia, where the Redskins home office is based, did not sign the letter, but the senators from Maryland — where the Redskins play their home games — did sign.
Critics of the Redskins team name have called for its change for decades. The controversy has heated up in recent years, as dozens of media organizations passed policies refusing to use what they say is an offensive term for Native Americans. The Cantwell letter did not mention the word “Redskins,” either.
Billionaire owner Dan Snyder has adamantly refused to rename the Redskins.
“We’ll never change the name. It’s that simple. NEVER — you can use caps,” Snyder told USA Today in May 2013.