A pair of lawmakers plan to send a strongly worded letter to the National Football League, urging it to change the name of the Washington Redskins or perhaps face the risk of losing its tax-exempt status.
The letter, by Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., chairwoman of the Indian Affairs Committee, and Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., a member of the Congressional Native American Caucus, called on NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to change the name because, they said, it is offensive to Native Americans.
In an interview on Sunday, Cantwell said lawmakers would “definitely” examine the issue of the league’s tax-exempt status, as well as other ways to pressure it into complying, The New York Times reported.
“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,” she said.
A copy of the letter was released Sunday. In it, the lawmakers criticized Goodell for recent comments in which he said the Redskins name “honored” Native Americans.
“The NFL can no longer ignore this and perpetuate the use of this name as anything but what it is: a racial slur,” the letter said.
Goodell has tread lightly over the issue, saying that while he understands the concerns being expressed, polls nonetheless show support – even among Native Americans – for keeping the team name as is.
“Let me remind you, this is the name of a football team, a football team that has had that name for 80 years and has presented the name in a way that has honored Native Americans,” he said.
Cantwell said Goodell’s comments reflect a belief that the league intends to defend the name.
For his part, team owner Daniel Snyder has said he has no plans to change it.
"I’ve listened carefully to the commentary and perspectives on all sides, and I respect the feelings of those who are offended by the team name,” he said in October, days after President Obama hinted that, if he owned the team, he would consider changing its name.
“But I hope such individuals also try to respect what the name means, not only for all of us in the extended Washington Redskins family, but among Native Americans too," Snyder said.
The NFL had no comment, but a Redskins team spokesman took issue with the lawmakers' threat.
“With all the important issues Congress has to deal with, such as a war in Afghanistan to deficits to health care, don’t they have more important issues to worry about than a football team’s name?” Tony Wyllie wrote in an email to the Times. “And given the fact that the name of Oklahoma means ‘red people’ in Choctaw, this request is a little ironic.”