Jeb Bush on Washington Redskins Team Name: ‘I Don’t Think It Should Change’

The GOP candidate is siding with the NFL team's right to keep its name.

September 30, 2015, 3:52 PM

— -- Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush is siding with the Washington Redskins’ right to keep the team’s name, despite protests from Native American groups and pressure from Congress to force a change.

“I don’t think it should change it,” Bush said on the inaugural episode of “The Arena” radio program, set to debut Friday afternoon on Sirius XM’s POTUS Channel 124. “But again, I don’t think politicians ought to be having any say about that, to be honest with you. I don’t find it offensive. Native American tribes generally don’t find it offensive.”

Bush cited the NCAA’s decision to let Florida State University keep its Seminoles nickname in 2005, while Bush was the governor of Florida, in explaining his thinking on the name for Washington’s football franchise.

“We had a similar kind of flap with FSU, if you recall, the Seminoles. And the Seminole tribe itself kind of came to the defense of the university and it subsided,” he said. “It’s a sport, for crying out loud. It’s a football team. Washington has a huge fan base -- I’m missing something here, I guess.”

Florida State’s nickname was supported during Bush’s time as governor by prominent Native American groups, including the Seminole Tribe of Florida and the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma.

The Redskins’ name, though, has been more controversial. Bills have been filed in Congress to force a change, and Native American groups have organized protests for years to force the franchise to change the team name away from a term that’s viewed by many as racially offensive.

The team’s owner, Daniel Snyder, has resisted efforts to change the team’s name. The issue could come before the next presidential administration, since the team had its trademark canceled by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office as a “disparaging” term. The team is seeking a new home in the Washington, D.C., area.

Also in the interview, Bush weighed in on Roger Goodell’s leadership of the NFL, how owning a sports team prepares one for the presidency, and, of course, Donald Trump.

Of Goodell, the NFL commissioner, Bush said, “I think that it’s a private enterprise and they ought to have as much freedom to do what they want. But good leadership and good management would suggest -- and I think Roger understands this -- that you have to create support around whatever ideas you have, and the best way to do that is to build support.”

“It can’t be done autocratically. I think the owners understand that as well. This is a brand that is hugely powerful, hugely successful, has grown under the tenure of Roger Goodell, but it can be hurt by these incidents -- whether it’s domestic violence, the concussion issue is a huge legal challenge, deflategate -- I never quite understood what the big fuss was, but nevertheless.”

“All these things matter, and so creating a process to show that you’re transparent and open, willing to listen to other sides of the story, I think all that’s important. It’s just part of being a leader,” Bush said.

In July, FEC reports showed that Snyder, who has been the Washington Redskins owner since 1999, donated $100,000 to the Jeb Bush Super PAC "Right to Rise."

Change the Mascot - the campaign dedicated to ending the team's use of "redskins" - released a statement today, calling Bush's comments "disappointing, but sadly not surprising."

“What is surprising is that in promoting the use of this slur, the governor somehow believes he speaks for Native Americans and can assert that Native American people do not find this slur offensive. He clearly is missing something. What is even more appalling is the governor’s declaration that because he personally doesn’t find this slur offensive, that makes it acceptable," the statement reads. “This should be a very simple open-and-shut issue in the 2016 campaign: No presidential candidate should be promoting this racial slur against Native Americans.”

DNC Chairwoman Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz also released a response today condemning Bush's comments.

“Jeb Bush’s support of the Washington football team’s name and mascot is extremely insulting to Native American people and is one of many reasons he will not earn the Native American vote. The team’s name is a racial slur that perpetuates negative stereotypes of Native American people, and reduces proud cultures to an insulting caricature."

“The Arena,” hosted by ABC News' Rick Klein and ESPN’s Andy Katz, will debut at 2 p.m. ET, Friday, as part of a six-show weekly series on Sirius XM’s POTUS channel. Building off the ESPN-ABC podcast “Capital Games,” the program will explore the nexus of sports and politics with interviews and analysis on hot sports topics.