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Congressional pressure builds on Redskins to change name

Keith Allison
via Flickr

An effort led by the Oneida Indian Nation to have Washington D.C.'s professional football team change its name has gained more support from members of Congress.

U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., and Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., sent a letter Monday to NFL Commissioner Rodger Goodell urging the league to take a stand for the Washington Redskins to change its team name.

Other members of Congress, including Syracuse Rep. Dan Maffei, have publicly said they don't support the use of the Redskins name.

In the letter, Cantwell, the chair of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, and Cole say the term is an "insult" and "disparages" Native Americans. Many Native Americans say the term is a racial slur and offensive. The public relations effort to pressure the Redskins club has been led by the Oneida of upstate New York under the group Change the Mascot.

A spokesman for the Redskins said in an email, "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?"

An NFL spokesman did not return an email, but Commissioner Goodell told media outlets shortly before the Super Bowl that the Redskins use the name with "honor." That's a similar position team owner Daniel Snyder has taken, calling the name a badge of honor and saying he'll never change it.

"Saying the Washington football team 'honored Native Americans' perpetuates a charade that dishonors Native people and their governments and erodes the reputation of the National Football League," the lawmaker's letter says.

The Oneida launched the Change the Mascot campaign last year, which has resulted in a meeting with the NFL and a public forum in the capital. Oneida Nation Representative Ray Halbritter issued the following statement in response to the letter:

The NFL is a publicly subsidized $9 billion-a-year brand with global reach, and it is using those public resources and that brand to promote a dictionary defined racial slur. While the Washington team somehow claims that Congress has better things to do than intervene in a serious issue that involves taxpayer dollars, it is the exact opposite: Congress has a responsibility to the American people to put an end to this kind of taxpayer-subsidized bigotry. We are thrilled to have these congressional leaders from both parties speaking out on behalf of the ‘Change the Mascot’ campaign and urge them to take immediate action to prevent the league from using any more public resources to promote hatred against Native Americans.