“Do you buffoons seriously not realize how foolish you look?” were not the exact words of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, but they may as well have been.
No, Goodell didn’t point out that the Native American Congressional Caucus was fussing and moaning about the name of a football team at a time Congress is running a trillion dollar deficit. Nor did he snarkily ask why the fine people of Minnesota’s fourth Congressional district or American Samoa were suddenly so interested in the name of Washington D.C.’s football team.
As you might expect Goodell took a more measured, conciliatory tone in his June 5 letter to the Native American Congressional Caucus. Replying to the Caucus’s May letter urging Goodell and Washington Redskins‘ owner Daniel Snyderto change the team’s nickname, Goodell acknowledged the matter was “complicated,” and that “reasonable people” could differ in opinion. Goodell also thanked the group for their interest, and unlike Snyder, who has unequivocally stated the team name will not change, stated he would be open to further discussion.
But let’s be clear: the purpose of Goodell’s letter was not to further dialogue. Rather, after years of tap dancing around the controversial subject, the league articulated a firm position in a non-abrasive, yet frank tone. Simply put, the NFL has no intention to change the Redskins’ name. And according to Goodell, both legal precedent and public opinion data validate the league’s position.
Of course, the “name change” issue has been an on and off irritation for the Redskins over the past two decades, as native american or activist groups have claimed the name “Redskins” is offensive. However, the cause has seemingly never gained permanent traction, as groups have never enjoyed much leverage other than the debatable accusation that the name is offensive (for the record, I believe this debate is pure hokum).
Anyway, the controversy was re-energized at this year’s Super Bowl, when Mike Wise of the Washington Post raised the issue with Goodell, who adroitly sidestepped the question during his state-of-the-league press conference. Then last month, the Caucus sent their letter to Goodell and Snyder. While Snyder has not responded and probably won’t, Goodell moved to bury the inane issue once and for all.
Citing independent public opinion studies, Goodell contends that only 10-11 percent of people want to see the name changed. Further, Goodell cites the name Redskins as being “a unifying force” for a team that has an “ethnically and geographically” diverse fan base.
Goodell also claims that there is legal precedent, in which ”the judge ruled against the plaintiffs and recognized that the name was been used by the team in a respectful manner.”
Translation: The people you’re suppose to be representing are largely unconcerned with this trivial, nonsensical fabrication of an issue. Further, you have no recourse, other than to continue hemming and hawing, as the courts have spoken.
Predictably, the evidence made no impression on caucus members Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.) and Rep. Eni Faleomavaega (D-American Samoa). McCollum went into the unoriginal, yet all-too-typical, diatribe saying Goodell’s letter was another case of the commissioner lobbying for “ NFL owners who appear to be only concerned with earning ever larger profits, even if it means exploiting a racist stereotype.” McCollum then asked a rather bizarre question, saying ”Would Roger Goodell and Dan Snyder actually travel to a Native American community and greet a group of tribal leaders by saying, ‘Hey, what’s up, redskin?’”
Faleomavaega at least steered clear of the ridiculous, noted the term was “a racial slur that disparages Native Americans,” and that Goodell “missed the point.”
Yes, Goodell may have missed the point, but we know for certain Congress did.
Simply put, after years of sidestepping the issue, the NFL has firmly stated they are not persuaded by the unconvincing arguments to change the name. And judging from the response of McCollum and Faleomavaega, it seems you have to be a member of Congress to not realize that.