The Donald Sterling episode has reinvigorated a longstanding debate regarding mascots in professional sports, with a growing number of members of Congress now demanding that the NFL pressure the Washington Redskins to change its team name.
In the latest edition of the ESPN podcast series “Capital Games,” Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, who represents the District of Columbia in the House of Representatives, said NBA Commissioner Adam Silver’s quick movement to oust Sterling after the emergence of his racist statements should push his NFL counterpart, Roger Goodell, when it comes to Washington’s football franchise.
“I do think that Adam Silver’s moment of leadership, just as he assumes the mantel at the NBA, is a strong message about what leadership is all about in sports, and should make it uncomfortable for Roger Goodell to continue to stonewall this issue,” Norton, a Democrat, told me and ESPN’s Andy Katz.
Fifty U.S. senators signed a letter to Goodell urging him to recognize the word “Redskins” as a “racial slur” and insist that the name should go.
A key House member, Rep. Henry Waxman, D-California, has called for congressional hearings on the name, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, gave a high-profile speech on the Senate floor urging Goodell to follow Silver’s example.
In response, Redskins President Bruce Allen wrote a letter to Reid reiterating the team’s insistence on keeping the name. He argued that the name “Redskins” “has always been respectful of and shown reverence toward the proud legacy and traditions of Native Americans.”
But Norton said the movement among Native American groups to banish the name is growing in momentum. Outside of Congress, efforts to force a change through the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, among other avenues, continue to percolate.
“Four times, the team tried to patent the word ‘Redskins,’ and four times the patent and trade commission has turned it down,” she said. “This name is going to go. My regret is that neither Goodell nor [team owner Daniel] Snyder have taken the kind of leadership we’d expect, particularly in a progressive city like this where a name that is derogatory of any group has no place.”
Also in the episode, we talked with Robert Roche, executive director of Cleveland American Indian Education Center and a member of the Chiricahua Apache tribe, about his efforts to banish the Cleveland Indians’ “Chief Wahoo” logo and mascot. The Indians have made less use of the logo in recent years but told us in a statement it would continue to be used through the 2014 season.
You can listen to the full podcast HERE.
“Capital Games with Katz and Klein” is a part of the new podcast series, ESPN Perspectives, with original programming on issues across the sports world. The program explores the intersection of sports and politics through interviews and analysis, and can be downloaded free via iTunes or on the ESPN website.