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NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell defends Redskins name in letter to Congress

5:11 PM, Jun 11, 2013   |    comments
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(USA TODAY) -- The nickname of the Washington pro football team is "a unifying force that stands for strength, courage, pride and respect," NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a letter to 10 members of Congress who'd urged him to reject the name.

Goodell's letter, dated June 5, was released Tuesday by U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.) and Delegate Eni Faleomavaega (D-American Samoa), who roundly criticized the commissioner's stance in a joint statement.

McCollum, co-chair of the Congressional Native American Caucus, called Goodell's defense of the name "twisted logic" and "a statement of absurdity." Faleomavaega, a member of the House Committees on Natural Resources and Foreign Affairs, said that "Goodell has completely missed the point. ... It is time for the NFL to stop making excuses for itself and fully embrace its so-called commitment to diversity."

Goodell's letter came in response to a May 13 letter from 10 members of Congress who asked him to "take a stand against the use of the word 'redskin' as the Washington franchise's name."

Goodell said in his letter that the team's name "from its origin represented a positive meaning distinct from any disparagement that could be viewed in some other context" and was never "meant to denigrate Native Americans or offend any group."

McCollum said: "Goodell's letter is another attempt to justify a racial slur on behalf of Dan Snyder and other NFL owners who appear to be only concerned with earning ever larger profits, even if it means exploiting a racist stereotype of Native Americans."

Goodell's letter cited opinion polls suggesting that the public at large, and many American Indians, are not offended by the name. He also cited a court ruling that upheld use of the name in a trademark disparagement case. A renewed version of that case is being considered by the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board, part of the U.S. Patent Office.

"As you correctly recognize," Goodell's letter said, "the issues raised with respect to the Washington Redskins name are complex, and we respect that reasonable people may view it differently, particularly over time. ... The National Football League takes seriously its responsibility to exemplify the values of diversity and inclusion that make our country great."

McCollum asked: "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?' I think not. ... Indian children, families and elders are Americans, and just like all racial, ethnic or religious groups, they deserve to be treated with respect and dignity, not as a demeaning caricature or mascot. That shouldn't be too much to ask of the NFL."

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