A top Republican messaging shop may be holding a focus group asking questions about the name of the Washington Redskins, but National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell seems to have already developed his own justification for the name. In a letter responding to members of Congress who have urged Goodell and Redskins owner Daniel Snyder to change that name, Goodell said that it remains “a unifying force that stands for strength, courage, pride and respect,” USA Today reports.
Deadspin has a full copy of the letter, addressed to Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK) and Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN), the co-chairs of the Congressional Native American Caucus. It is courtesy copied to eight other members of Congress who, along with Cole and McCollum, sent Goodell a letter calling for a name change in May. In the letter, Goodell cites the “overwhelming majority” of Americans who view the name positively and multiple Native American tribal leaders who have said they have no problem with it. The name is honorary and worth preserving, Goodell argues, because “the most recent detailed survey of Native Americans, conducted by the independent and highly respected Annenberg Public Policy Center, found that fewer than 10% considered the name objectionable.”
Goodell did not state the exact percentage of Native Americans that would have to find the name objectionable to qualify it as objectionable.
Meanwhile, several of Goodell’s arguments seem thin. Goodell’s letter says the team chose the name in 1933 to honor its head coach, William “Lone Star” Dietz, the obvious insinuation being that Dietz was a Native American. But as Deadspin’s Barry Petchesky noted, he almost certainly wasn’t. Goodell added that the matter has been settled legally, though he didn’t mention the ongoing federal trademark case that is taking place only because a previous decision to rescind the Redskins’ trademark on grounds that it is an offensive term was overturned on a technicality.
And while Goodell states that “there is no doubt that the team understandably is proud of its heritage and the culturally rich community it serves,” he acknowledges neither the team’s extensive history of racism nor that the “culturally rich community it serves” includes a population that is just 0.6 percent Native American, according to the Census Bureau. One wonders, then, if Goodell would feel the same way if the Redskins chose to honor the racial group that makes up a majority of D.C.’s population and 28 percent of its business owners with a similar racial descriptor.
The letter wasn’t received well in Congress. McCollum called it “a statement of absurdity” and “another attempt to justify a racial slur.” Del. Eni Faleomavaega, who represents American Samoa, said Goodell’s response “completely missed the point.” Former NFL linebacker Scott Fujita tweeted Wednesday, “Whoever drafted the Commissioner’s letter to Congress about the football team in DC failed him miserably.”