One of the more controversial fights in Washington, D.C. isn’t over the budget or Obamacare. It’s about a football team’s name.
And now President Barack Obama is weighing in.
In an interview with the Associated Press, Obama said if he were the owner of the Washington Redskins, and he knew the name was “offending a sizeable group of people,” then he would “think about changing it.”
Ever the politician, Obama suggested that he understands the fervor of a loyal sports fan. But mascots and team names related to Native Americans can elicit strong feelings, he added.
“I don’t know whether our attachment to a particular name should override the real, legitimate concerns that people have about these things,” Obama said.
Redskins attorney Lanny Davis, responded to Obama’s comments, stating that the team honors a “legacy and tradition” that does not intend to “disparage or disrespect a racial or ethnic group.”
Davis, in his statement, mentioned other teams with names that reference Native Americans, such as the Atlanta Braves, the Cleveland Indians and the Chicago Blackhawks, who hail from Obama’s home town.
The statement also mentions an April 2013 AP poll that found most Americans don’t think the Washington Redskins name should be changed – pushing back on Obama’s comment that the number of people offended by a mascot could be a deciding factor on whether to change it.
However, there are Americans who do take issue with the name. One such group is the Oneida Indian Nation.
“As the first sitting president to speak out against the Washington team name, President Obama’s comments are truly historic,” said Oneida representative Ray Halbritter. “The use of such an offensive term has negative consequences for the Native American community when it comes to issues of self-identity and imagery.”
The group is holding a symposium in Washington on Monday focused on the campaign to change the team mascot. The symposium coincides with the NFL fall meeting in the capital.
Until recently it seemed that a name change had little traction in the NFL itself. But, last month, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, who had previously expressed support for the team mascot, changed his tone on the radio show “The LaVar Arrington Show with Chad Dukes” on 106.7 The Fan in Washington.
“I want all of us to go out and make sure we’re listening to our fans, listening to people of a different view, and making sure that we continue to do what’s right to make sure that team represents the strong tradition and history that it has for so many years,” Goodell said.
In the end, even Goodell said the decision over whether or not to change the name lies with Redskins owner Dan Snyder. Snyder has vehemently refused to consider changing the name, stating it will never happen.
The team mascot also faces opponents on Capitol Hill. A bill introduced in Congress in March seeks to deny the team federal trademark protection.