Congress Comment on Name Change, Redskins Respond


Earlier this month I posted an op-ed piece about the controversy going on about the Redskins’ name. The issue has gained much media attention this offseason and the influential voices are starting to speak. In my piece, I expressed the idea that given all of the strides we’ve made socially in the last decade, sooner or later this name is going to be changed. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., and Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla. shared that sentiment in a letter to Commissioner Roger Goodell and the NFL. The two said that the league was “on the wrong side of history” because “it is in fact an insult to Native Americans.” I couldn’t agree more with what they said, and I couldn’t be more disappointed in how the Redskins responded.

The Redskins are losing their PR battle against the very people trying to make them change their name. When the Redskins could have responded diplomatically as they have been, they took the opportunity to deflect the issue to more pressing, life-threatening needs that Native Americans face.

The statement said, “Senator Cantwell should be aware that there are many challenges facing Native Americans, including an extremely cold winter with high energy bills, high unemployment, life threatening health problems, inadequate education and many other issues more pressing than the name of a football team which has received strong support from Native Americans. Surely, with all the issues Congress is supposed to work on such as the economy, jobs, war and health care, the Senator must have more important things to do.”

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Cantwell is the chair for the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, and to say that Cantwell isn’t allocating her time elsewhere comes out of left field. Because she serves as chair of that committee, she represents a constituency of not only her state but also the Native American community. Questioning the fact that Native Americans have been rallying around this team name and are pursuing a rebranding of the 80 year old franchise is naive, and to cite those areas of adversity only weakens their stance. Those are issues facing not just Native Americans, but everyone else. They took a slow pitch right over the middle of the plate, swung as hard as they could and whiffed badly.

Sooner or later, this name will be changed. Before it does, Roger Goodell has to start valuing the opinions of the right people. At a press conference during Super Bowl media week he said, “Eight out of ten Americans in the general population would not like us to change the name. So we are listening.” I was actually shocked when I first read what is probably the most transparent argument I have ever heard. Is anyone surprised that eight of ten Americans don’t want the name changed, when there are only 5.2 million Native Americans in a country of 317.5 million people? The ones who are directly implicated by the term “Redskin” make up approximately 1.64 percent of the American population. Goodell is ignoring them almost entirely but not running the statistics of a sample drawn from an American Indian population asking participants how they feel about the potential name change, and comparing it against the denominator of Native Americans in this country. That 1.6 percent will be much, much higher.

This is not the last time this issue will be addressed, by the Redskins or the legislature, and the Native American community for certain will not go quiet on the issue. It’s just a name. The people who make up that organization won’t have to change their work phone number, or their work address. The players will practice on the same field for the same fans. They may hear a different name being chanted, but the chants are still directed by a loyal fan base at the same corps of burgundy and gold soldiers. A move needs to be made, and a move needs to be made fast. Stay tuned.