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Washington Is One Battleground Goodell Needs To Concede

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Roger Goodell and Daniel Snyder have picked one battle that they need to concede. Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images.
Roger Goodell and Daniel Snyder have picked one battle that they need to concede. Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images.

In an initiative led by American Samoa delegate Eni Faleomavaega and members of the Congressional Native American Caucus (CNAC), pressure is being put on the NFL, Commissioner Roger Goodell and owner Daniel Snyder to change the name of the Washington Redskins. After receiving a letter from Congress last month about the issue, Goodell finally responded with a formal statement that he was really better off not writing in the first place.

Goodell claims that “for the team’s millions of fans and customers, who represent one of America’s most ethnically and geographically diverse fan bases, the name is a unifying force that stands for strength, courage, pride and respect.” Say what? Strength, courage, pride and respect?

Instead of expanding on that absurdly misguided statement, Goodell goes on to cite polls that show support for the team name — all of which are irrelevant. Native Americans are a minority group, and polling the public at large only skews the results, as the topic only relates to the ethnic group that it offends (which was likely a very small percentage of voters). If every Native American was polled on the issue, how do you think they’d vote? It’s probably safe to say that the vast majority wouldn't be eager to support it.

The CNAC sent letters to Goodell, Snyder, FedEx CEO Frederick Smith and each of the other 31 NFL teams saying, “Native Americans throughout the country consider the ‘R-word’ a racial, derogatory slur akin to the ‘N-word’ among African Americans or the ‘W-word’ among Latinos. Such offensive epithets would no doubt draw widespread disapproval among the NFL’s fan base. Yet the national coverage of Washington’s NFL football team profits from a term that is equally disparaging to Native Americans.”

It really doesn’t get any clearer than that.

Dozens of tribes and organizations have already disavowed the use of the term redskin or pledged their support for a bill that was put forth in March by Faleomavaega in an attempt to “cancel the registration of a mark containing the term ‘redskin’ or any derivation of that term.” If the bill passes and the team loses its federal trademark status, it only furthers the cause of Faleomavaega and the CNAC.

Goodell tried to use an old trademark case in an attempt to further justify their cause, but that very trademark case is currently being reviewed by the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board. By losing their federal trademark status, Washington stands to lose millions of dollars. However, even in the face of pressure, Snyder was loud and clear when he said in an interview with USA Today, “We’ll never change the name. It’s that simple. NEVER — you can use all caps.” Snyder took a strong stance on the issue by declaring that the team would not change its name, but his resolve and wallet will be put to the test should it lose its federal trademark status.

While the team name has been around for decades, time does nothing to validate its continued use. It originated from a racially segregated era in American history, and quite a lot has changed over the years. The name change — they were initially the Boston Braves — was purportedly an attempt to honor then-head coach William “Lone Star” Dietz back in the ‘30s, but there’s just one small problem with that argument: thanks to Barry Petchesky from Deadspin who unearthed this, Dietz may not have even been Native American. And even if he was, not only should it have been offensive to Dietz, it’s a flimsy argument to try and justify the use of the word.

The team name may have been allowed to stand for this long, but change is being demanded, and it’s time for the NFL to answer the call. Fans of the team that don’t see the racial connotations of the word are understandably upset at the notion of changing the team name that they’ve come to love, but that’s not their call to make.

Just like the fans that are opposed to changing the team name, both Goodell’s and Snyder’s opinion on whether or not the team’s name is offensive is inconsequential. The very people that the word pertains to find it offensive, and they’re calling for reform. If Goodell and Snyder are so adamant about keeping the name, perhaps they should answer this question posed by US Representative Betty McCollum: “Would Roger Goodell and Dan Snyder actually travel to a Native American community and greet a group of tribal members by saying, ‘Hey, what’s up, redskin?’”