Washington’s professional football team lost another game Sunday, but owner Daniel Snyder’s biggest headache might not even be his star quarterback’s reinjured knee. As opposition to the name of his football team continues to swell, Snyder got another prominent opponent over the weekend, this time in the form of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA).
In an interview with The Hill, Pelosi said it “probably would be a good idea if they change the name,” adding herself to a growing list of members of Congress and political figures who have spoken out against the name this year. Both Native American members of the House Indian Affairs Committee oppose the name, as does D.C.’s delegate to Congress and other members who signed a letter asking NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to consider a change earlier this year. President Obama last month said that he would “think about changing” the name were he in Snyder’s position.
Snyder has successfully dismissed congressional criticism and a growing wave of opposition from Native American groups — the Oneida Nation, the National Congress of American Indians, and others — and is in the process of defending his franchise against a federal lawsuit challenging the name’s trademark protection. And while public opinion remains tilted in his favor even in D.C., that tide may be shifting too, thanks to opposition from the city’s black clergy members that will soon intensify.
Rev. Graylan Hagler, a senior minister at D.C.’s Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ, has been preaching against the name for two decades, and he told Religion News Service last week that he now has more than 100 other clergy committed to preaching about the subject in the coming weeks. Hagler and his fellow clergy will also circulate petitions through their congregations to send to Snyder.
“Collectively, we’re speaking to thousands of people every week,” Hagler said.
Hagler and others have long equated the name to the “n-word” and other racial slurs directed at African-Americans, and if any fans can get Snyder’s attention, it would be his own, who he has turned to for support in the face of renewed controversy. Snyder and the franchise conducted focus groups and circulated email questionnaires during the offseason, likely looking for numbers to show that fans don’t care about the issue, especially as Goodell and other owners are starting to acknowledge the legitimacy of the opposition.
Perhaps Snyder is starting to acknowledge it too. Last week, TMZ reported that one of Snyder’s suburban Maryland neighbors registered a federal trademark for the “Washington Bravehearts” for the purpose of “entertainment in the form of football games,” a development TMZ and others took to mean that Snyder was considering — or at least protecting against — a name change. That requires a lot of speculation without any real answers, and a spokesperson for the team said that Snyder and the neighbor had no connections on this or any other issue.
Still, it’s apparent now that an issue that has always popped up only to subside over time isn’t going away at all this time. Not when Native American groups are intent on keeping up the fight, and not when the people who have the power to influence others, from Congress to the media to clergy, are intent on joining it.