WASHINGTON — Weighing in on one of the hottest controversies in sports and particularly in the nation’s capital, Sen. Harry Reid has added his voice to those who believe it’s time for the Washington Redskins to change their name.
Reid said in an interview Wednesday that team owner Dan Snyder “is so shortsighted” not to respond to native American groups, civil rights organizations and religious leaders demanding the mascot be dropped as demeaning and racist.
“We live in a society where you can’t denigrate a race of people. And that’s what that is. I mean, you can’t have the Washington Blackskins,” the Senate majority leader from Nevada said in an interview with The Hill.
Reid joined President Barack Obama, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and a number of other lawmakers who have called on Snyder to make a change. Obama said in October if he owned the team he would “think about changing” the name.
Snyder, in an October letter to the NFL team’s fans and season ticket holders, rejected any negative characterization of the name and said it was an integral part of the team’s history and identity. Earlier this year he told USA Today he would never change the name.
The Redskins responded Thursday to Reid, saying essentially he was out of bounds.
“The Redskins respect Senator Reid, and he is, of course, entitled to his opinion,” the team said in a statement. “However, we strongly disagree based on what we are hearing from Native Americans and based on the generations of pride and heritage that our name represents.”
The team said it heard from “a former constituent” of Reid in Nevada, a man named Andy Block, who told the team he lived and worked on the Shoshone-Paiute reservation in Owyhee, just south of the Nevada-Idaho border.
The team quoted Block: “The Redskins are by far the favorite franchise of any sport. The offices of both hospital administrators at the Indian Health Service hospital were covered in Redskins posters, calendars and gear. … The first day of work several laborers showed up wearing Redskins shirts and/or hats. They loved the team as much as I did … Hail to the Redskins!”
A call to the tribal administrator of the Shoshone-Paiute Tribes of the Duck Valley Indian Reservation in Owyhee was not immediately returned. Efforts to track down Block were not immediately successful.
Native Americans in Southern Nevada who were interviewed by the Las Vegas Review-Journal last month about the portrayal by mascots of sports teams were split. Some said they took pride in the mascots; others said they were deeply offended.
Some said tribes should be consulted when colleges or professional ballclubs want to name a mascot after a Native American tribe or symbol.
Leon Yazzie, a member of the Navajo Nation, offered a solution to the controversy over the Washington Redskins.
“Just take away the ‘Washington,’ and leave the ‘Redskins,’” he said. “Then everything will be fine, I think.”
Review-Journal writer Tom Ragan contributed to this report. Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202-783-1760. Follow him on Twitter @STetreaultDC.