Harry Reid: Time For Washington’s NFL Team To Change Name

CREDIT: AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

It’s time to change the name of Washington’s football team, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said Wednesday afternoon, making him the latest politician to speak out against it.

“I think Snyder is so short-sighted on this,” Reid told The Hill. “We live in a society where you can’t denigrate a race of people. And that’s what that is. I mean you can’t have the Washington Blackskins. I think it’s so short-sighted.”

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), the House’s top Democrat, said in October that it “probably would be a good idea if they change the name.” Ten House members, including Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK) and Betty McCollum (D-MN), who chair the Congressional Native American Caucus, sent a letter to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell earlier this year asking him and the league to consider a name change. Cole is Native American.

President Obama told the Associated Press in October that were he the team’s owner, he would “think about changing” the team’s name. “I don’t know whether our attachment to a particular name should override the real legitimate concerns that people have about these things,” Obama said.

Native American groups have been at the center of the fight against the name, with the Oneida Nation organizing protests and events against it and running radio ads as part of its “Change the Mascot” campaign. The National Congress of American Indians, meanwhile, produced a white paper outlining the harmful effects the stereotypes created by such names can have on Native Americans.

Snyder has acknowledged the opposition in public letters to fans, but he insisted in a preseason interview that he would “NEVER” change the name. Political pressure from federal politicians, though, is significant if largely symbolic, both because it could help shift public opinion and because it marks a change for a government that has, at times, largely ignored Native Americans on this issue.

Take, for instance, the federal lawsuit a group of Native Americans has filed that challenges the name’s trademark protections in federal court. That case argues that the name has for decades violated a federal law that bans trademarking racial epithets. It has drawn criticism from some, like Rush Limbaugh and fans, who say the government shouldn’t meddle in the name of a football team. But it’s not that simple, according to American Samoa Delegate Eni Faleomavaega. “The federal government,” Faleomavaega said on the House floor in July, “is part of the problem.”


The Oneida Nation said in a statement Thursday that it appreciates Reid’s position on the issue.

“I would like to express my gratitude and appreciation to Senate Majority Leader Reid for speaking out boldly against racial intolerance and bigotry,” Oneida Indian Nation Representative Ray Halbritter said. “On behalf of the Oneida Indian Nation and the Change the Mascot campaign, I thank Senator Reid for opposing the R-word and standing up for what is right. Demands for change from America’s top leaders give energy to our Change the Mascot movement, and they inspire us to push ahead with our calls for the Washington team and the NFL to finally place themselves on the right side of history.”

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