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.
“Congressional action is not the best avenue for addressing this issue,” he said in an email. “A large number of my constituents are truly passionate about the team and I hope that the organization will move towards a name that everyone can unite behind. I also think the NFL should support the team in what could be costly and extensive re-branding efforts as eliminating this issue benefits the whole of the NFL.”
Van Hollen approaches the issue as a fan of the team. He believes the team should follow the path of Washington’s professional basketball team, which switched its name from the Bullets to the Wizards in 1997, “but does not believe that Congressional action should be taken to force that change,” spokeswoman Bridgett Frey said in an email.
So far, 18 Democrats and one Republican, Oklahoma Rep. Tom Cole, have signed on in support of the Non-Disparagement of Native American Persons or Peoples in Trademark Registration Act of 2013. The bill has been stalled in a House Judiciary subcommittee since then and has not been scheduled for a hearing, according to a committee aide.
House members who represent Northern Virginia constituencies ripe with fans of the team also weighed in on how it should respond to criticism from the Native American community.
Democratic Rep. James P. Moran said Wednesday afternoon that he finds the team’s name “troubling” and would be personally offended by it if he were an American Indian.
“As it builds momentum, I think it’s going to be more and more difficult to retain that name,” Moran said, but he added that he leaves the decision in Snyder’s hands.
Democratic Rep. Gerald E. Connolly cut the conversation short when asked about the Redskins. “It’s not a federal issue, and I’m pretty busy with health care,” he said.
Faleomavaega’s office hopes the issue might have some traction in the Senate, but staff on the chamber’s Indian Affairs Committee said there are no plans for a companion bill at the moment.
The region’s Senate delegation is opting to watch silently from the sidelines. The offices of Virginia Democrats Tim Kaine and Mark Warner did not respond to multiple requests for comment on where they stand on the issue of a name change. Maryland Democrats Barbara A. Mikulski and Benjamin L. Cardin also had no comment for the record. Both are from Baltimore, home to the Ravens franchise.
Though her Minnesota home turf is far from the DMV territory, Democratic Rep. Betty McCollum has become one of the most outspoken opponents of the name, reaching out to Native American groups in her district and in D.C.
As a leader of the Congressional Native American Caucus, which she co-chairs with Cole, she sent letters to Snyder, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, team sponsor FedEx and the 31 other NFL franchises urging a name change.
Goodell responded to Congress this summer, writing that “the name is a unifying force that stands for strength, courage, pride and respect.” He left the ball in the owners’ court.
Snyder had previously vowed that the team would “never” drop the name but has recently softened his tone.
Vice President Joe Biden waits to conduct a mock swearing-in ceremony with Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, in the Capitol's Old Senate Chamber, December 2, 2014. Schatz was sworn in to serve the remainder of his term since he was appointed to the seat after Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, passed away.