A council of local governments adopted a resolution yesterday requesting the owner of the Washington Redskins change the name of the team because it is offensive.
The resolution does not carry the force of law, but Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments members said they hoped the request would increase political and public pressure on team owner Daniel Snyder.
“I’m very optimistic,” said D.C. Council member Carol Schwartz, who sponsored the resolution. “I’m hoping they will honor the request not only by the council but by 17 jurisdictions that make up the Washington region.”
Mrs. Schwartz sponsored a similar resolution in the D.C. Council, which was passed on an emergency basis Nov. 6. She said she is a football fan and loves the team but has been bothered by the name, which she said dates back to a time when bounties were placed on American Indians and bloody scalps, or “red skins,” were proof of a kill.
“The use of this degrading and dehumanizing term for a team name is offensive and hurtful to Native Americans and to many people who reject racial stereotypes, racial slurs and bigotry as socially and morally unacceptable,” her resolution reads.
Fairfax County Supervisor Gerald Connolly, one of two council members to vote against the resolution, criticized its language as “incendiary.”
“I think it’s tantamount to saying to Redskin fans and to our constituents, ‘You are bigots,’” he said.
Mr. Connolly said he was not necessarily against asking the team to change the name, but said the resolution was simply “a series of assertions” and the council should have examined it more thoroughly.
“Where’s the task force report? Where’s the study? Where’s the research?” Mr. Connolly asked. “What is it we’re going to do here? The recipient is going to read it and say, ‘By God I’ve been a bigot and I’ll change’?”
Mr. Connolly proposed an alternate resolution that would soften admonishment of the team and offer the help of the Council of Governments in the name-changing process.
That resolution was soundly defeated as members adopted Mrs. Schwartz’s resolution by a vote of 11-2, with five abstaining.
Rockville City Council member Robert Dorsey, Greenbelt Mayor Judith Davis, Montgomery County Council member Blair Ewing, Arlington County Board member Jay Fisette, D.C. Council member Adrian Fenty, Fairfax County Supervisor Catherine Hudgins, D.C. Deputy Mayor John Koskinen, D.C. Council member Phil Mendelson, College Park Mayor Stephen Brayman, and Takoma Park Mayor Pro Tem Bruce Williams voted with Mrs. Schwartz to adopt the resolution.
Prince William County Supervisor Mary Hill abstained because, while she personally supported the resolution, she said the Prince William County board formally voted against supporting it.
Fairfax County Supervisor Penelope Gross abstained, arguing it was not the Council of Government’s duty to target the name of a private business.
Fairfax Mayor John Mason, Alexandria City Council member Redella Pepper and Montgomery County Chief Administrative Officer Bruce Romer also abstained.
Loudoun County Supervisor Eleanore Towe joined Mr. Connolly as the only dissenting votes. Redskins Park, the team’s corporate headquarters, is in Loudoun County.
Neither of Prince George’s County’s appointed council members, County Executive Wayne Curry and County Council member Jim Estepp, attended the meeting. The Redskins play their home games at FedEx Field in Prince George’s County.
The Council of Governments, which represents 17 area jurisdictions, meets monthly to coordinate regional approaches to problems involving the environment, economic development, public safety and transportation.
The debate yesterday on the team name was scheduled for 10 minutes, but lasted nearly an hour far longer than it took for the council to adopt an interim emergency response plan developed in the wake of the September 11 attacks.
The council’s resolution is not the only challenge to the team name.
Last year, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Patent and Trademark office ruled in favor of seven American Indians who filed a complaint against the Redskins in 1992.
Saying the name “may disparage Native Americans and it may bring them into contempt or disrepute,” the board ordered the cancellation of the federal registration of seven Redskin trademarks, including the team’s name and helmet logo under a 1946 federal trademark law that says names cannot be protected if they are “disparaging, scandalous, contemptuous or disreputable.”
The team is appealing the ruling, which does not stop it from using the name, but could keep it from retaining exclusive trademark rights.
Even if Mr. Snyder were to agree to a name change, he would be fairly powerless to do it alone. While the patent case is still on appeal, the licensing rights to the team nickname and logo the legal entities that help fuel the National Football League’s $3 billion annual merchandising business are still controlled by the league’s properties division.
A change to the nickname would require approval by the league, and probably by its owners as well. All wholesale revenues derived from NFL merchandise are split equally among all 32 teams, regardless of which teams sell best.
Redskins spokesman Karl Swanson reiterated yesterday that the team has no plans to change its name.
He said he had expressed the team’s positions clearly in a letter sent to Mrs. Schwartz on Nov. 20, accusing her of spreading “misinformation” about the origin of the team name.
Mr. Swanson says the name Redskins refers to the American Indian practice of painting the faces and bodies of warriors with red clay prior to battle.
He said the Redskins have always depicted Indians in an honorable fashion and that the team has repeatedly found a “striking amount” of support from fans and the general population.
“Our organization will not abandon its time-honored name,” Mr. Swanson said in the letter.