Zema “Chief Zee” Williams, a well-known fan and unoffical mascot of the Washington football team, attends a 2004 a pep rally on the West Front of the Capitol.
Capitol Hill efforts to force Washington’s National Football League franchise to change its name remain stalled, even as President Barack Obama welcomes tribal leaders to the White House this week to launch the administration’s Council on Native American Affairs.
Democrats representing large swaths of the team’s fan base are split on whether Congress should use its power to force the franchise to change its name, which supporters say is not intended to denigrate anyone. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., has been leading the charge against the moniker, which she deems a “disparaging” ethnic slur, even voicing her opposition on ESPN. She and Maryland Rep. Donna Edwards, whose district is home to the team’s FedEx Field, both support a bill aimed at changing the 81-year-old name.
Fellow Maryland Democratic Reps. John Delaney and Chris Van Hollen believe the best approach to the decadeslong controversy would be for the team to voluntarily change its name.
The president said during an Oct. 4 interview that if he were the owner of the team, he would consider changing the name to avoid offending Native Americans. House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., echoed Obama.
“I think it would be wise and appropriate for Dan Snyder to consider changing the name,” Hoyer said in a statement to CQ Roll Call. “I expect there will continue to be conversations that lead to resolution on this issue, and I would encourage those conversations to occur in a timely manner.”
Six months before the team kicked off in its home opener, Del. Eni F.H. Faleomavaega, a Democrat representing American Samoa, launched a legislative offensive. He introduced a bill to ban current and future trademarks that use the term “redskins” to refer to American Indians.
“The Native American community has never accepted the ‘r-word’ as anything more than a hurtful, disparaging label that is a reminder of the maltreatment they have endured,” Faleomavaega said in a March 21 House floor speech announcing support from a broad coalition including the National Congress of American Indians, which is hosting events related to this week’s White House meetings.
Supporters believe canceling trademark protection would cost the franchise — worth an estimated $1.7 billion, according to Forbes — significant sums of money related to its marketing.
Putting a financial stranglehold on the team is a non-starter for Delaney, who views the branding issue from his standpoint as former CEO of a large company.
Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., takes a selfie with his cut-out head during the Hoops for Youth 16th annual charity basketball game held at George Washington University's Smith Center, September 8, 2014. The members of Congress team beat the lobbyist team 46-40. Buy photo here.