Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), a ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee has called for a congressional hearing on the word “Redskins.”
In a letter to Fred Upton (R-MI), the committee’s chairman, Waxman said that the word was “derogatory” and referenced Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling saying that his private comments have “raised public awareness of racism in sports.”
Waxman explained how quickly Adam Silver, the NBA’s commissioner, took action to condemn the racist statements by fining Sterling $2.5 million dollars and banning him from the NBA for life. But he argues that the NFL has taken no action against Daniel Snyder who owns the Washington NFL team.
“In the case of the Washington football team, the offensive conduct is public, not private. But it is being condoned and defended by the National Football League,” Waxman wrote.
“Unlike NBA Commissioner Silver, the Commissioner of the National Football League, Roger Goodell, has publicly defended the owner. In fact, he stated in a letter that "the name is a unifying force that stands for strength, courage, pride and respect."
Waxman also brought up the team’s storied history comparing the current situation to George Preston Marshall’s (who was the team’s owner) decision not to racially integrate the team more than 50 years ago. The team was the last to integrate until the federal government -- with guidance from Stewart Udall the Interior Secretary -- forced him to change the name.
Waxman said “a congressional hearing could be a similar catalyst for action today.”
This urging is particularly poignant because the Commerce Committee oversees professional sports teams and has the power to get involved in the controversy.
“The NFL gets substantial tax benefits as a "nonprofit" corporation, and its teams often receive billions of dollars in taxpayer-funded stadium subsidies," Waxman said. "As the Committee with primary jurisdiction over professional sports, we could play a constructive role in challenging racism by asking Mr. Snyder and Mr. Goodell to explain in a public hearing how their actions are consistent with the public interest.”
Waxman’s stance in the name change debate puts him among a group of several other congressional leaders who have dispelled the name. Recently, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) spoke on the Senate floor advising Goodell to follow in Silver’s footsteps. And last week, former presidential candidate John McCain (R-AZ) said that he would “probably” change the team’s name.
Waxman’s letter can be read here.