It’s one thing for a random politician to speak out about the Redskins name or another to muse about the possibility of changing it on a popular national radio and TV show. It’s quite another for 50 members of the United State Senate — FIFTY — to sign a letter to the NFL urging action on the name of the franchise owned by Daniel Snyder.
Via the New York Times, nearly half of the legislative body wants the name to be changed.
“The NFL can no longer ignore this and perpetuate the use of this name as anything but what it is: a racial slur,” the letter says. “We urge the NFL to formally support a name change for the Washington football team. . . . We urge you and the National Football League to send the same clear message as the NBA did: that racism and bigotry have no place in professional sports.”
How significant is it that so many Senators signed off on the letter?
“Listen, it is hard to get 50 people in this place to agree on anything,” Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) said.
The issue broke, as so many of these issues do, along party lines; all but five of the Senate’s Democrats signed the letter and no Republicans did. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine of Virginia, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Joe Donnelly of Indiana, and Mark Pryor of Arkansas abstained.
“The intent of the team’s name has always been to present a strong, positive and respectful image,” the league said in a statement issued to the Times. “The name is not used by the team or the NFL in any other context, though we respect those that view it differently.”
And that’s the heart of the dilemma the NFL currently faces. At some point in the past year, the NFL and the franchise have conceded that reasonable minds may differ on whether the name “Redskins” is a slur. Does the league want one of its teams to carry a name on which a fair debate exists and lingers regarding whether the name represents blatant and open racism?
For the NBA, swift and decisive action was taken in response to comments made privately by Sterling. For the NFL, the problem continues to hide in plain sight.
The best argument in support of change comes from the reality that, if the NFL were forming a team now, there’s no way it ever would be dubbed the “Redskins.” It continues only because of its past. At some point in the future, the present will prevail.