Lawmakers warn NFL about Redskins

February 10, 2014, 8:10 AM

— -- The fight to change the  Redskins' name won't die. And it's become an issue among the nation's lawmakers.

Two members of Congress will send a letter to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell on Monday, telling him to publicly announce support for a name change -- and that the NFL can no longer ignore the issue.

The letter, obtained by multiple media outlets, was written by Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.). Cantwell is chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, while Cole is a senior member of the appropriations committee -- and a member of the Chickasaw Nation.

"The National Football League can no longer ignore this and perpetuate the use of this name as anything but what it is: a racial slur," the letter stated.

Cantwell told the newspaper the Indian Affairs Committee would "definitely" examine the NFL's tax-exempt status as a means to apply pressure.

"You're getting a tax break for educational purposes, but you're still embracing a name that people see as a slur and encouraging it," Cantwell told The New York Times.

The letter reiterated that stance, telling the NFL it's on the "wrong side of history." That's why, it stated, the NFL should "take a formal position in support of a name change."

The Redskins have received "more than 7,000 letters and emails" in favor of keeping the name, with "almost 200 from people who identified themselves as Native Americans or as family members of Native Americans," the team said in a statement released Monday.

The statement included three letter excerpts from fans of Native American descent, all either supporting the Redskins' name or saying it was not offensive to them.

The Redskins also cited a 2004 survey that said 90 percent of Native Americans were not bothered by the Redskins' name. The lawmakers' letter criticized the team for clinging to "decade-old public opinion polling."

Goodell has declined to take a formal stance on the debate in the past. Before the Super Bowl, he told reporters, "I've been spending the last year talking to many of the leaders in the Native American communities. We are trying to make sure we understand the issues. Let me remind you: This is the name of a football team, a football team that's had that name for 80 years and has presented the name in a way that it has honored Native Americans."

The lawmakers' letter rebutted Goodell's statement, calling the name "an insult to Native Americans."

Redskins owner Dan Snyder has been adamant that he won't change the name. But he has received steady pressure, and protests, over the past year. In May, 10 members of Congress sent letters to Snyder, Goodell, the 31 other owners and Redskins sponsor FedEx, urging the franchise to change the name. Cole was part of that group as well.

That group introduced a bill last March that would "cancel the federal registrations of trademarks using the word redskin in reference to Native Americans."

Redskins spokesman Tony Wyllie said in a statement, "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 given the fact that the name of Oklahoma means 'Red People' in Choctaw, this request is a little ironic."