NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell defends indefensible

Racist DC team520x347

[Note: the R-word slur is only in direct quotations, so my personal choice not to use the word continues.]

The racist slur that adorns the Washington, D.C. football team continues to be an embarrassment for all sports fans, and resistance to the name is growing. But despite a lawsuit filed by Native Americans that challenges the trademark, and Congress's introduction of a bill to cancel federal registration for all trademarks using the slur, owner Dan Snyder has doubled down, saying "We'll never change the name. It's that simple. NEVER. You can put that in capital letters." In fact, the Republican strategist Frank Luntz has been brought on to find a way to put a positive spin on it.

In mid-May, ten members of the United States Congress, including leaders of the Native American Caucus, wrote a letter addressed to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and all NFL team owners asking that the D.C. team cease using the offensive name.

On June 5, Commissioner Goodell responded with a spectacular failure of a letter. He wrote: "In our view, a fair and thorough discussion of the issue must begin with an understanding of the roots of the Washington franchise and the Redskins name in particular ... the name was changed ... to honor the team's then-head coach, William 'Lone Star' Dietz. Neither in intent nor use was the name ever meant to denigrate Native Americans or offend any group."

Goodell's analysis is a woefully inaccurate portrayal of the team's history and omits many key facts. First, William Dietz was very likely not Native American and the idea of naming the team for his believed Native ancestry is a perfect example of a backhanded 'compliment.' Also of note was the total omission of the role of George Preston Marshall, the team's first owner who chose the name. Marshall was an open segregationist and racist who didn't draft a Black player until the team was threatened with being barred from its federally funded stadium. His will contained instructions that his money not go to "any purpose which supports or employs the principle of racial integration in any form."

The commissioner's letter goes on to defend the refusal to change the name, claiming that public opinion supports its use, and that it "stands for strength, courage, pride and respect." It is the height of arrogance to tell an oppressed community how they should feel about a term applied to them, and what should or should not be acceptable. If that community declares that a name or a term is offensive - and Native American organizations have done so, repeatedly -- it should not be used. Congresswoman Betty McCollum of Minnesota called out the ridiculousness of Goodell's argument, saying "Would Roger Goodell and Dan Snyder actually travel to a Native American community and greet [someone with], 'Hey, what's up, redskin?' I think not."

If the National Football League wants to "take seriously its responsibility to exemplify the values of diversity and inclusion that make our nation great," it could get a fantastic start by recognizing the racist history of the D.C. franchise's name and ceasing to defend the indefensible. It should change the name and pledge to begin a real educational effort to explain why the change was the right decision for the team, the league and the country.

Photo: Mike Licht/

Patent Office cancels Washington's disparaging trademark: The U.S. Patent Office ruled June 18, 2014, that the Washington Redskins nickname is "disparaging of Native Americans" and that the team's federal trademarks for the name must be canceled.



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  • If congresswoman McCollum is so sensitive about this. Then why doesn't she push the government to give them back their land they stole?

    Posted by stephanie, 10/14/2013 12:02am (2 years ago)

  • You are so narrow minded and censorship oriented. Your time would be better spent going after the music business that calls women "b's" and "whs" and other derrogatory names that dehumanize women.
    The Indian is a sign of our past and loved symbol of where America came from. It is important to remember our history and everytime I see the Indian Head Nickel, I am reminded of how we got the land we have and how we should honor the land and appreciate the Native American. I love it that NFL and baseball teams have named themselves after our forgotten heritage. Get over yourself, Americans love the Native American symbols and names.
    The Redskins may have started out wrong from the owner's attitude, but funny how things have a way of turning out right when it is.

    Posted by JAH, 09/13/2013 6:51pm (2 years ago)

  • Mr. Parthun,
    You are very one sided in your attempt to create politically correct names and symbols. You'd better go after the entertainment industry and get certain words that denigrate women removed from the music. Oh, or would that be censorship? The Washington Redskins is a great name for a strong warrior team in the NFL. Being a Native American is a point of pride and when you know who you are, you stand tall and appreciate the fact that people even remember this land was previously settled by the Red Man. You would whitewash our history and anything to do with the facts. Some things start out wrong and end up right, this is one of them. I love the American Indian and appreciate them and am glad we still remember our roots by putting their signs on many things, including the nickel.

    Posted by JAH, 09/13/2013 6:43pm (2 years ago)

  • Why not change the name to Washington Natives. Make an honorable title to go with the logo.

    Posted by Troy , 09/10/2013 10:48am (2 years ago)

  • NFL team owners fail to realize racism when they choose to cover up what every one else already knows. Maybe the Washington Rednecks would be more appropriate for lack of sensitivity to a situation requiring long overdue change.

    Posted by Richard Grassl, 06/24/2013 3:43pm (2 years ago)

  • And let's not forget the Chicago NHL team. It is uncomfortable to watch people wearing a caricature of a Native person and people skating all over it during a game.

    And in Atlanta, they are still selling the 'Screaming Savage" hats for fans to have that is adorned with the old 'Chief Nokahoma' logo.

    Posted by Neil Parthun, 06/20/2013 4:35pm (2 years ago)

  • The problem of teams using Native American names and logos has improved somewhat on the college and high school levels as some schools have dropped the racist names, though it has a long way to go.
    The situation on the professional level is much more difficult. The Washington NFL team is not the only example. I can think of two in baseball that get my hackles up. One is the "Chief Wahoo" logo of the Cleveland team. The other is the use of the so-called "tomahawk chop" chant in Atlanta. Both are disgusting.

    Posted by David G, 06/19/2013 12:08am (2 years ago)

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