Fifty senators have written to the National Football League demanding that it pressure the Washington Redskins to change the team’s name, which they say is "racially offensive" to Native Americans.
The letter to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, signed by all but five Democratic senators, comes in the wake of the quick action taken by the National Basketball Association against Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling for his racist statements, The New York Times reported.
"The NFL can no longer ignore this and perpetuate the use of this name as anything but what it is: a racial slur," the letter reads.
"We urge the NFL to formally support a name change for the Washington football team. We urge you and the National Football League to send the same clear message as the NBA did: that racism and bigotry have no place in professional sports."
The letter was circulated by Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington and endorsed by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. It was not passed to Republican senators, according to the Times.
Sterling was fined $2.5 million and banned from the league for life while the NBA also said it planned to force him to sell the team. Sterling has refused
to pay the fine and has said he won't sell the team.
NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy appeared to defend the team’s name in a statement.
"The intent of the team’s name has always been to present a strong, positive and respectful image," according to the statement, which was quoted by the Times. "The name is not used by the team or the NFL in any other context, though we respect those that view it differently." The NFL said it hasn't received the letter from Senate Democrats.
The Washington NFL team, owned by Daniel Snyder, has refused to change its name, claiming that many Native Americans approve of the name Redskins, which the team says is a tribute to the strength and courage of Native Americans, according to the Times.
However, the letter said that "Indian Country has spoken clearly on this issue," while pointing out that groups representing 2 million Native Americans and 300 sovereign tribes had called for the name to be changed and declared it racially offensive.
Reid, who has been an outspoken critic of the Redskins name, told the Times that he was surprised that the league was unwilling to alter the moniker.
"I have 22 tribal organizations in Nevada," Reid said. "They are not mascots. They are human beings. And this term Redskins is offensive to them."
Cantwell said, "We are going to find out if the NFL can act against this kind of discrimination as quickly as the NBA did."
The Times said that the NFL receives a federal tax break from the government.
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