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Roger Goodell defends Redskins name in letter to McCollum

REUTERS/Adam Hunger
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, shown with Minnesota Vikings draft pick Sharrif Floyd.

WASHINGTON — Rep. Betty McCollum and the Congressional Native American Caucus waded into the simmering debate over the political correctness of the Washington Redskins name last month, but NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has told her the name is here to stay.

McCollum and members of the caucus sent Goodell a letter in May asking him to consider changing the name of the Redskins, calling it “derogatory, demeaning and offensive,” and a “slur akin to the N-word.” The name is a source of ongoing conflict in the NFL and in Washington, and the brand is a subject of a federal trademark lawsuit.

But in a June 4 letter to McCollum, Goodell said there is vast public support to keep the name, and that it was never intended to offend. Rather, the name was meant to honor Native Americans even after the franchise changed its name from the Boston Braves in 1933 (there was a baseball team of the same name. The franchise moved to Washington in 1937).

“Neither in intent nor use was the name ever meant to denigrate Native Americans or offend any group,” Goddell wrote.

In a statement, McCollum said the letter was, “another attempt to justify a racial slur on behalf of [Redskins owner] 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.” 

“For the head of a multi-billion dollar sports league to embrace the twisted logic that ‘Redskin’ actually ‘stands for strength, courage, pride, and respect’ is a statement of absurdity,” she said.

Snyder has said he will never change the team’s name.

Devin Henry can be reached at

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Comments (5)

  1. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 06/12/2013 - 11:37 am.


    If I use the “N” word with the “intent” of honoring black people, it’s OK?

  2. Submitted by Mac Riddel on 06/12/2013 - 12:05 pm.

    Should we change the Vikings name too?

    I’m usually a strong supporter of McCollum, but she kind of went off the deep end here. This non-issue is something that Republicans were prone to introducing in the recent past. No matter what you change the team name too, it could be considered derogatory to some group. What about the Vikings? It has almost the identical connotation to the original group as does the Fighting Sioux, Braves or Redskins. All these names were introduced to honor the aforementioned group and their toughness and is a source of pride for the team and community.

    I would understand if the team name was called the Ugly Redskins, or YellowFolk. These are not prideful names and are not something the team or fans would ever rally around. The ancestors of the native-americans were known to be very tough and good warriors, and teams wanted to use names that used these strong terms to describe themselves. It’s a badge of honor and renaming these teams is nearly always a mistake.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 06/12/2013 - 02:54 pm.

      Silly argument

      Someone always has to drag out the “What about the Vikings?” canard, don’t they?

      “Vikings” is not a derogatory nickname. It is prideful. It does not have the same connotation as “Redskin,” a term used by colonists to marginalize the natives.

      Incidentally, “Viking” properly refers only to people from a certain village in what is now Norway. “Redskins” is a slur on an entire people.

  3. Submitted by jody rooney on 06/12/2013 - 01:11 pm.

    Then can you tell me Mr. Riddel why the tribal members

    who came to the Pentagon were uncomfortable when we walked past the “Redskin Country” cafeteria. The Army calling something Redskins was not something that they felt honored them.

    The thing is about names is the group that is supposedly honored gets to decide if they are indeed honored. It isn’t a non issue. Tribes never called each other redskins, they called each other by their tribal names, Lakota, Dakota, Mdewakatan. The only people that called them Redskins were people who intended to stereo type them negatively as one group and demean them.

    Before you defend should at least educate yourself on the people you think you are honoring.

    The group that came to the Pentagon were saddened that people still thought about and talked about them that way they were 100 years ago. They wondered if they would ever be thought of as anything else?

  4. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 06/13/2013 - 07:00 am.

    A test

    I propose a simple test. If you had a friend who happened to be of Irish descent and perhaps proud of his Irish heritage, if you saw him, would you call out, “Hey, Irish”? If you had a Native American friend who was proud of his Native American heritage, if you saw him, would you call out, “Hey, Redskin”?

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