Lawmakers step into Washington Redskins name fray

Posted at 9:40 PM, Feb 10, 2014
(CNN) — Two lawmakers have joined the debate over the name of the Washington Redskins football team, writing a letter to the National Football League calling for a name change and threatening to hold hearings on the subject.

The name Redskins is “an insult to Native Americans,” according to the two lawmakers, Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Washington state and chairwoman of the Indian Affairs Committee, and Rep. Tom Cole, R-Oklahoma, who is a member of the Chickasaw Nation.

“This term does not honor — but rather disparages — Indian people and tribes,” they wrote in their letter to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. “The National Football League can no longer ignore this and perpetuate the use of this name.”

Cantwell said the advocacy of the National Congress of American Indians, including a video made by the organization, was part of what prompted her letter to league officials.

NFL officials “have heard from the leading representatives of Native Americans in our country,” she said. “So are they going to change the name, or are they going to continue to use an offensive name?”

The owner of the Redskins, Daniel Snyder, has defended the name and vowed to keep it. Tony Wyllie, a senior vice president with the team, had the following response to the lawmakers:

“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?”

And in an apparent dig at Cole, he added, “given the fact that the name of Oklahoma means “Red People” in Choctaw, this request is a little ironic.”

The team also pointed to letters from Redskins fans of Native American descent who support the name, such as Arthur Dymond, who said he went to every game this season.

“I’m proud of being a Redskin. I’m proud of being a Native American,” he said in an interview. “It’s honorable. The Redskins team plays honorably; they fight hard, as did the ‘redskins’ of the past.”

He also objected to members of Congress getting involved in the issue.

Cantwell said she was ready to make an issue of the tax-exempt status the NFL enjoys and plans to push for Senate hearings on the subject.

“With our tight economic budget, we can’t afford to have tax breaks going to organizations that basically have terminologies that are offensive to the American people,” she told CNN.

The NFL did not have an immediate reaction to the letter from the lawmakers, but Goodell was asked about the controversy 10 days ago.

“Let me remind you, this is a name of a football team that has had that name for 80 years, and has presented the name in a way that honored Native Americans,” he said. We recognize that there are some that don’t agree with the name, and we have listened and respected that.”

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