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Lawmakers step into Washington Redskins name fray

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(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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  • Becky

    This appears to be more correct-mess rather than the Indian Nation.
    Seems the public would hear more from the Indians than the Correct-
    mess crew.

  • athynz

    Do these two lawmakers have nothing better to do than to get involved in an issue that really has no bearing on any part of their job? If so then let’s fire them and hire someone else who is willing to do their job.

  • Daniel Beasley

    Why is the NFL tax-exempt ? I wouldn’t watch the Redskin’s or any other team on purpose, unless they were paying me, it figures lawyer’s have to mess things up, A lawyer sueing other lawyer’s in Congress. We really need Mass Referendum Voting. Let their fan’s decide . They pay for the tickets.

  • C Conour

    You know with all of the financial hardships facing the nation , political corruption running rampant, lack of leadership on a local ,and national level; and millions of American losing work, healthcare and in some cases their very homes you would think that worrying about a name that has been in place and recognized for 80 years would not be a high priority.
    It never ceases to amaze me at the shell game being played by members of our “ruling” class to distract the American public from more serious issues. Really ? you would spend tax payer funds for something so frivolous as this ? Or maybe its the notoriety you seek..when is enough enough ?

  • James Walker

    The government refuses to even recognize many native american tribes in Virginia yet wants to make a big deal out of the name of a football team . This is the same government that massacred native americans, stole their lands and imprisoned them on reservations. Many live in poverty on these same reservations to this day. How about make restitution for these crimes against native americans and then worry about the name of a football team.

  • Shawn

    This was a letter sent out by Dan Snyder on the subject. Enjoy!

    To Everyone in our Washington Redskins Nation:

    As loyal fans, you deserve to know that everyone in the Washington Redskins organization – our players, coaches and staff – are truly privileged to represent this team and everything it stands for. We are relentlessly committed to our fans and to teh sustained long-term success of this franchise.

    That’s why I want to reach out to you – our fans – about the topic I wish to address directly: the team name, “Washington Redskins.” While our focus is firmly on the playing field, it is important that you hear straight from me on the issue. As the owner of the Redskins and a lifelong fan of the team, here is what I believe…and why I believe it.

    Like so many of you, I was born a fan of the Washington Redskins. I still remember my first Redskins game. Most people do. I was only six, but I remember coming through the tunnel into the stands at RFK with my father, and immediately being struck by the enormity of the stadium and the passion of the fans all around me.

    I remember how quiet it got when the Redskins had the ball, and then how deafening it was when we scored. The ground beneath me seemed to move and shake, and I reached up to grab my father’s hand. The smile on my face as he sang that song…he’s been gone for 10 years now, but that smile, and his pride, are still with me every day.

    That tradition- the song, the cheer- it mattered so much to me as a child, and I know it matters to every other Redskins fan in the D.C. area and across the nation.

    Our past isn’t just where we came from-it’s who we are.

    As some of you may know, our team began 81 years ago- in 1932- with the name “Boston Braves.” The following year, the franchise name was changed to the “Boston Redskins.” On that inaugural Redskins team, four players and our Head Coach were Native Americans. The name was never a label. It was, and continues to be, a badge of honor.

    In 1971, our legendary coach, the late George Allen, consulted with the Red Cloud Athletic Fund located on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota and designed our emblem on the Redskins helmets. Several years later, Coach Allen was honored by the Red Cloud Athletic Fund. On the wall at our Ashburn, Virginia, offices is the plaque given to Coach Allen – a source of pride for all of us. “Washington Redskins” is more than a name we have called our football team for over eight decades. It is a symbol of everything we stand for: strength, courage, pride, and respect – the same values we know guide Native Americans and which are embedded throughout thier rich history as the original Americans.

    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. 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.”

    -from a letter to fans by Daniel M. Snyder, Owner of the Washington Redskins

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