Four New York state lawmakers will introduce a resolution at the state capitol Tuesday calling on professional sports teams to quit using racial slurs like “Redskins” as their team names, the Change The Mascot campaign announced in a press release Monday.
State Sens. George Maziarz (R) and Joe Griffo (R) and Assemblymen Karim Camara (D) and Keith Wright (D) will introduce the resolution alongside Ray Halbritter, a representative of the Oneida Indian Nation of New York who has spearheaded the Change The Mascot campaign against the name of Washington’s professional football franchise since last year.
Maziarz is the chair of the state Senate’s Native American Relations committee; Camara chairs the state Assembly’s Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian caucus.
The lawmakers will circulate the resolution through the Assembly and Senate this week.
While New York may seem far away from the Washington dispute, it was an effort to get rid of a use of “Redskins” there that first persuaded Oneida to join the fight national Native American groups launched against Washington’s name and other uses of Native American imagery in sports decades ago. In 2013, the Cooperstown, New York school board voted to change the name of the Cooperstown Central High School Redskins if the school could come up with the money to fund a switch. Oneida donated $10,000 to finance the project, and shortly thereafter launched its Change The Mascot campaign that ran radio ads against the name throughout the 2013 season.
According to the release, the resolution is a response to the NBA’s decision to ban Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling for life and force a sale of his team after he made racist comments about African-Americans on audio recordings. Halbritter linked the NBA’s response to the NFL’s lack of action on Washington’s name last week.
“With commissioners and team owners from the NBA this week using their power to combat racism in their midst, the resolution calls on other leagues – such as the NFL – to use their power to stop promoting slurs that denigrate others on the basis of their race and ethnicity,” Oneida said in its release, echoing the statement Halbritter made last week after the NBA announced Sterling’s lifetime ban.
U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D) made the same connection on the Senate floor Thursday, calling on NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to follow the NBA’s example by pushing to change the team’s name.
“For far too long the NFL has been sitting on its hands doing nothing while an entire population of Americans has been denigrated,” Reid, who had previously called on the team to change its name in December, said. “So I say to commissioner Roger Goodell…remove this hateful term from your league’s vocabulary and rid the league of racism and bigotry.”
Friday, Arizona Sen. John McCain (R) joined in, saying that he would change the name if Native Americans have a problem with it.
“If they think it’s that offensive and terrible, I would certainly — probably — I’m not the owner and he has the rights of an owner. But frankly I would probably change the name,” McCain said on The Dan Patrick Show. “Myself I’m not offended. You’re not offended. But there are Native Americans who are.”
Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson, a former NBA player who led the NBA Players Association’s response to Sterling’s comments last week, also criticized the continued use of “Redskins” when asked about the issue on Meet The Press over the weekend.
“I think it should strongly be considered,” Johnson said. “I think the Native American community and many others feel that’s not the right name going forward, and I think the NBA set a great example that you can act swiftly and decisively.”
Johnson, McCain, and the group of New York lawmakers are only adding to the chorus of opposition against the name: Reps. Betty McCollum (D-MN) and Tom Cole (R-OK), co-chairs of the Congressional Native American Caucus, led a group of 10 lawmakers who called on the NFL to change the name in a letter to Goodell last June, and top lawmakers like House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D) have called for the name to change. Major civil rights groups and coalitions of religious leaders have also pushed for a name change.
The Washington city council unanimously passed a resolution calling on the team to change its name in 2013.
Other teams that use Native American imagery have also faced calls to change. The Cleveland Indians have been the subject of Twitter campaigns and activism demanding that the team quit using its Chief Wahoo logo, and activists have also called on Nike to quit marketing apparel with the logo on it.
In the 1970s, two NBA franchises quit using Native American names when the Buffalo Braves became the San Diego Clippers and the Golden State Warriors stopped using an Indian mascot. No other franchise has changed since. Still, the movement against Native American names and imagery has been effective: there were more than 3,000 uses of Native American logos, names, and mascots in 1970. Today, according to activists, fewer than 1,000 remain.