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Redskins name change: Will Congress make team act?

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Evan Vucci/AP/File

(Read caption) Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder looks on during a rookie minicamp practice session at Redskins Park on May 5 in Ashburn, Va.

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Can Capitol Hill get the Washington Redskins to change their name? That’s a live question in D.C. Wednesday since 10 members of Congress have sent a letter asking for such a switch to Redskins owner Daniel Snyder, National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell, Redskins sponsor FedEx, and all the other NFL franchises.

The word “redskin” is offensive to many native Americans, said the lawmakers in their missive.

“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,” the letter said.

Hmm. Will this be the push that finally gets Mr. Snyder to act? After all, this is a long-running issue. The nickname is already the subject of a legal challenge from a group that wants to strip the team of trademark protection. Native American groups themselves have complained that the team name is a slur that should not be allowed.

Furthermore, the politics of the group that sent the letter is pretty interesting. For the most part, it reflects the membership of the Congressional Native American Caucus. While most of the signers are Democrats, at least one – Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma, an enrolled member of the Chickasaw nation – is Republican, giving the effort a bipartisan tinge.

Plus, there’s a precedent. A Washington sports team changed its name in the mid-1990s in part due to worries that it had become offensive. That was the former Washington Bullets, whose owner, Abe Pollin, decided that the name spoke too much of violence, and changed it to Wizards in 1995.


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