May 22 2014

50 Senators to NFL: Follow NBA’s Lead and Change Washington Team Name

In largest Congressional call to action, letter urges NFL to seize opportunity to remove ‘racial slur’

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Fifty U.S. Senators called on the National Football League (NFL) to formally endorse a name change of the Washington franchise, in letters sent today to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.

The call to action marks the largest Congressional endorsement of a name change for the football team in the nation’s capital. It comes amidst building momentum from Tribes, civil rights organizations, sports leaders and elected officials for the NFL to change Washington’s mascot.  A pre-Super Bowl video by the National Congress entitled “Proud to Be” has generated more than 1.8 million views on YouTube. On Monday, the state assembly in the home state of NFL headquarters – New York – passed a bipartisan resolution denouncing the use of racial slurs as team names.

In a letter – led by Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and signed by 47 other Senators – the Senators urged the NFL to follow the example of the National Basketball Association (NBA) in sending a clear message against racism in sports. The Senators pointed to NBA Commissioner Adam Silver’s swift decision to ban Los Angeles Clippers’ owner Donald Sterling from the league for his racist comments about African-Americans attending basketball games.

“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,” the Senators wrote. “It’s time for the NFL to endorse a name change for the Washington, D.C. football team.

“The despicable comments made by Mr. Sterling have opened up a national conversation about race relations. 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.”

Civil rights organizations and Tribes across the nation have called on the Washington football team to change its name. Other prominent national organizations in support of a name change include the NAACP, National Council of La Raza, American Association of People with Disabilities, the ACLU, National Organization for Women, and the Anti-Defamation League.

“Now is the time for the NFL to act,” the Senators wrote. “The Washington, D.C. football team is on the wrong side of history. What message does it send to punish slurs against African Americans while endorsing slurs against Native Americans?”

Tribal organizations representing more than 2 million Native Americans and more than 300 Tribes have called on the NFL for a name change. They include the Oneida Indian Nation, which launched a national “Change the Mascot” campaign to end the use of a racial slur in the team’s name. The National Congress of American Indians, the largest organization representing Native Americans passed a resolution in October in support of a name change. A name change has also been endorsed by United South and Eastern Tribes, and the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians, and the Navajo Nation. On Monday, the New York State Assembly unanimously passed a bipartisan resolution denouncing the use of racial slurs as team mascots.

“This is a matter of tribal sovereignty – and Indian Country has spoken clearly on this issue,” the Senators wrote. “Tribes have worked for generations to preserve the right to speak their languages and perform their sacred ceremonies. Yet every Sunday during football season, the Washington, D.C. football team mocks their culture. The NFL can no longer ignore this and perpetuate the use of this name as anything but what it is: a racial slur.”

Senators who signed the letter include: Cantwell, Reid, Jon Tester (D-MT), Charles Schumer (D-NY), Patty Murray (D-WA), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), John Walsh (D-MT), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Carl Levin (D-MI), Mark Begich (D-AK), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Christopher Coons (D-DE), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Tim Johnson (D-SD), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Christopher Murphy (D-CT), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Tom Udall (D-NM), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Jack Reed (D-RI), Richard Durbin (D-IL), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Bob Casey, Jr. (D-PA), Angus King (I-ME), Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), Tom Harkin (D-IA), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Amy Klobuchar, (D-MN), Al Franken (D-MN), Edward Markey (D-MA), Mark Udall (D-CO), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Tom Carper (D-DE), Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Kay Hagan (D-NC), and Mary Landrieu (D-LA). Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) also sent a separate letter to Goodell calling for a name change.

The full text of the letter is below:

Mr. Roger Goodell 

Commissioner

National Football League

345 Park Avenue

New York, NY 10154

 

Dear Commissioner Goodell:

This month, Americans applauded the rapid and decisive reaction from new National Basketball Association Commissioner Adam Silver to the racist remarks of Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling. Commissioner Silver sent a clear message that racism will not stand in the NBA.

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.

The despicable comments made by Mr. Sterling have opened up a national conversation about race relations. 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.

Professional sports have tremendous power to influence American society and strengthen our communities. From Jesse Owens to Jackie Robinson to Billie Jean King, athletes have often been a driving force for equality and diversity in our nation.

Now is the time for the NFL to act. The Washington, D.C. football team is on the wrong side of history. What message does it send to punish slurs against African Americans while endorsing slurs against Native Americans?

This is a matter of tribal sovereignty – and Indian Country has spoken clearly on this issue. To this point, we have heard from every national Tribal organization, including the National Congress of American Indians, United South and Eastern Tribes, and the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians. These organizations represent more than 2 million Native Americans across the country and more than 300 Tribes with government-to-government relationships with the United States. These organizations have passed resolutions in support of a name change as they find the Washington, D.C. football team name to be racially offensive.  We have heard from tribes across the country, including the Navajo Nation, the largest tribe in the Country, who oppose this name.  To understand this viewpoint, we urge you to watch the video Proud To Be posted on the National Congress of American Indians website.

At the heart of sovereignty for tribes is their identity. Tribes have worked for generations to preserve the right to speak their languages and perform their sacred ceremonies. Many of today’s tribal leaders have parents and grandparents who were punished and prosecuted for practicing their ceremonies or speaking their languages. That is why tribal leaders worked with Congress to enact laws like the American Indian Religious Freedom Act, the Native American Languages Act, the Indian Arts and Crafts Act, and the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act.  These are all federal laws intended to protect and respect tribal culture and identity. Yet every Sunday during football season, the Washington, D.C. football team mocks their culture.   

The NFL can no longer ignore this and perpetuate the use of this name as anything but what it is: a racial slur. We urge the NFL to formally support and push for a name change for the Washington football team. 

Sincerely,

 

 

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