The Washington Redskins name is a racist relic that has no place in today's multi-cultural NFL and must be changed, the leader of the US Senate said Wednesday.
The American football team in the US capital has faced a backlash for decades, particularly from Native American groups that see the name as a racial slur, but the prickly issue of racism in US sports is back in the spotlight after the NBA banned the Los Angeles Clippers owner.
Weighing in with the most forceful case against the Redskins name in years, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said the NFL should take a leaf out of the National Basketball Association (NBA) playbook and confront racism head on.
"I... applaud the NBA's work to swiftly move to stamp out bigotry in its ranks," Reid said in a floor speech, after Clippers owner Donald Sterling was banned for life Tuesday over his racist comments caught on audio tape.
"The National Football League should take an assist from the NBA and pick up the slack," Reid said as he urged the NFL to stop "sitting on its hands doing nothing while an entire population of Americans has been denigrated."
Reid said NFL commissioner Roger Goodell should "remove this hateful term from your league's vocabulary and rid the league of racism and bigotry. Your fans will support it."
Reid, a former boxer, from Nevada, a state with a substantial Native American population, also took aim at Redskins owner Daniel Snyder, who has adamantly defended his team's name.
Reid blasted Snyder's efforts to hide behind tradition in keeping the name, and said the owner has taken no leadership on the delicate issue.
"What tradition?" Reid posed. "A tradition of racism is all that name leaves in its wake."
"I urge Daniel Snyder to do what is morally right."
This week's swift and decisive NBA action may have set a precedent of zero tolerance for racism in top-shelf American sports.
The Oneida Indian Nation, leader of the Change the Mascot campaign that wants the Redskins name dropped, said the NBA made "a courageous stand" against racism in sport.
"The NBA has shown leagues like the NFL that they have a moral responsibility to take disciplinary action against people like Dan Snyder, who also continues to proudly promote bigotry with the use of a dictionary-defined racial slur as his team's name," Oneida representative Ray Halbritter said.
Earlier this month, United Nations expert James Anaya, who oversees global rights of indigenous peoples, deemed the Redskins name a symbol of centuries of abuse faced by Native Americans, although he stopped short of calling formally for it to be changed.