After 50 United States senators sent a letter to the NFL calling on the league to change the name of the Washington Redskins, the team in late May hired a Washington lobbying firm to help it defend the name from a growing group of critics.
The Redskins enlisted the help of K Street lobbying firm McGuirreWoods Consulting to deal with “discussions of team origins, history and traditions, Washington Redskins Charitable Foundation and youth sports, activities of Original Americans’ Foundation,” according to a lobbying disclosure form first reported by Politico.
The team has been embroiled in a public battle over its name for most of the last year, with owner Daniel Snyder repeatedly insisting that the team will not change even as Native American groups call “Redskins” a “dictionary-defined slur.” The letter from 50 senators led by Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and former Senate Indian Affairs Committee chairwoman Maria Cantwell (D-WA) was the latest display of action against the name from political leaders — House members from Congressional Native American Caucus co-chairs Betty McCollum (D-MN) and Tom Cole (R-OK) to Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) have also criticized the name in public appearances and letters to the NFL, and President Obama has said he would consider a name change were he in charge of the team.
The lobbying firm is the latest strategic move the organization has taken to defend the name. ThinkProgress reported in January that the team had hired a team of veteran Republican communications strategists — including former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer, consultant Frank Luntz, and former Virginia Sen. and Gov. George Allen — to help craft a strategy defending the name. Lanny Davis, a lobbyist and former Democratic White House communications aide, has also been working for the team.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and members of the Redskins organization also met with Cantwell in a previously undisclosed meeting about the name, ThinkProgress reported in March.
If McGuirreWoods is indeed coming aboard to do work on “team origins, history and traditions,” and the “activities of the Original Americans Foundation,” it has its work cut out for it. The team has often claimed that it chose its name based on one of its earliest coaches, a supposed Native American named William “Lone Star” Dietz, but historian Linda M. Waggoner debunked the idea that Dietz was a Native American in a historical investigation published in 2013. A recently-unearthed newspaper article from 1933 includes the team’s founder, George Preston Marshall, saying that he did not choose the name to honor Dietz.
Congressional leaders like McCollum and Native American activists, meanwhile, slammed Snyder’s creation of the Original Americans’ Foundation in March, calling it a ploy to “buy the silence of Native Americans.”