Roger Goodell got a letter delivered to him this week. He gets lots of letters, thank you notes from AT&T, save the date cards from Jim Irsay, etc. But this one was different. This was an official letter signed by half of the 100 members of the United States Senate, directly addressed to the son of a former Senator from New York, urging the NFL to change the racially charged nickname of Dan Snyder's Washington Redskins.
Sounds like a power move, one that will finally get Goodell and Snyder to listen to reason. It's not, and it won't.
The NFL responded to the story:
We have not received the letter, but the NFL has long demonstrated a commitment to progressive leadership on issues of diversity and inclusion, both on and off the field. The intent of the team's name has always been to present a strong, positive and respectful image. The name is not used by the team or the N.F.L. in any other context, though we respect those that view it differently.
This isn't the first time Senators have pleaded with the NFL to take action on the issue. Harry Reid of Nevada cited the NBA's decision to toss former Clippers owner Donald Sterling over his own racist remarks in a statement earlier this month. Sterling and the NBA led the Senate letter too.
Goodell and the owners reportedly talked about Sterling and responsible ownership barely a day ago at their business meeting in Atlanta. That discussion was a continuation of the league meetings in Orlando last month, about respect and tolerance and improving the overall condition of the NFL workplace. But for all the keynote speeches and panel discussions and old rumors about five-yard penalties for using the N-word, the name of metro DC's professional football team is still an epithet colored by 300 years of genocide, planned and de facto.
All in the name
All in the name
But it's the Senate sending this letter, not a group of marginalized citizens living far outside the view of American television consumers. A letter from 50 blue bloods to another should carry a little more weight.
Maria Cantwell of Washington state initiated the letter. Reid endorsed it (both come from states with sizable native populations and dotted with reservations). They got 48 of their Senate colleagues to sign it, all Democrats. Only five Democrats did not sign the letter: Mark Warner and Tim Kaine of Virginia, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Joe Donnelly of Indiana and Mark Pryor of Arkansas ... red state Senators unwilling to risk re-election.
50 Senators doesn't mean much these days, not when it takes a two-thirds super majority to get ANYTHING done. Letter writing is just about all the Senate has left in its quiver of things to do between fundraising and elections.
The other 50 Senators who didn't sign the letter can just go on ignoring the situation all together. Or, better yet, they can present it as a partisan attack on a silent majority under siege. Worst of all, the rhetoric allows Dan Snyder and the NFL to portray themselves as victims, just some sporting billionaires who want to preserve tradition.
50 Senators from one party want the NFL to change Washington's team nickname. It might as well be 50 guys in Tony Romo jerseys standing outside FedEx Field with cardboard signs.