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National Football League’s Commissioner Attempts to Justify a Racial Slur

June 13, 2013
Press Release

Washington, DC –  NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has responded to a bipartisan group of Members of Congress who urged the commissioner to “…take a stand against the use of the word ‘redskin’ as the Washington franchise’s name” in a May 13th letter.  Mr. Goodell’s letter (dated June 5) and supporting material attempts to justify the use of the racial slur and says “Redskins” has “a positive meaning.”  The commissioner did acknowledge in his letter that “…the issues raised with respect to the Washington Redskins name are complex.”

Ten Members of Congress and the nation’s oldest, largest and most representative Native American organization, the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), along with dozens of other Native American organizations have urged the Washington football teams owner and the NFL to end the use of Redskins due to its offensive, derogatory, and racist connotations.

Congressman Eni Faleomavaega (American Samoa) responded to the letter with the following statement:

“Mr. Goodell has completely missed the point regarding the Washington franchise’s name.  In his recent letter, he acknowledges the NFL’s ‘responsibility to exemplify […] values of diversity and inclusion.’  Yet in the same letter he fails to assume any responsibility for the racism that the Washington franchise’s name continues to promote.  You cannot have it both ways.  Whether good intentioned or not, the fact of the matter is that the term ‘Redskin’ is a racial slur that disparages Native Americans.  It is time for the NFL to stop making excuses for itself and fully embrace its so-called commitment to diversity.”

Democratic Co-Chair of the Congressional Native American Caucus Congresswoman Betty McCollum (MN-04) issued the following response:

“Unfortunately, NFL Commissioner Goodell’s letter is another attempt to justify a racial slur on behalf of Dan Snyder and other NFL owners who appear to be only concerned with earning ever larger profits, even if it means exploiting a racist stereotype of Native Americans.  For the head of a multi-billion dollar sports league to embrace the twisted logic that ‘Redskin’ actually ‘stands for strength, courage, pride, and respect’ is a statement of absurdity. 

“Would Roger Goodell and Dan Snyder actually travel to a Native American community and greet a group tribal members by saying, ‘Hey, what’s up redskin?’ I think not. (“Hey, what’s up redskin” is a quote from materials provided to my office by the NFL, along with the claim that “Redskins” is a “term of endearment” among Native Americans.)

“Indian children, families and elders are Americans, and just like all racial, ethnic, or religious groups, they deserve to be treated with respect and dignity, not as a demeaning caricature or mascot.  That shouldn’t be too much to ask of the NFL.”