WASHINGTON — Half the U.S. Senate urged NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell on Thursday to change the Washington Redskins' name, saying it is a racist slur and the time is ripe to replace it.
In a letter, 49 senators cited the NBA's quick action recently to ban Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling for life after he was heard on an audio recording making offensive comments about blacks. They said Goodell should formally push to rename the Redskins.
"We urge you and the National Football League to send the same clear message as the NBA did: that racism and bigotry have no place in professional sports," read the letter, which did not use the word "Redskins."
Redskins owner Daniel Snyder has refused to change his team's name, citing tradition.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., led the letter-writing effort. All senators on the letter are Democrats. Cantwell spokesman Jared Leopold said Republicans were not asked to participate.
Democrats not signing the letter were Tim Kaine and Mark Warner of nearby Virginia; Mark Pryor of Arkansas and Mark Begich of Alaska, in tight re-election races this year; and moderate Joe Manchin of West Virginia.
Another, Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., wrote his own letter to Goodell, saying he doesn't believe that retaining the Redskins name "is appropriate in this day and age." He described himself as "one of your great fans for both the game and you personally."
Last month, Reid took to the Senate floor to say Snyder should "do what is morally right" and change the name. President Barack Obama and lawmakers from both parties have previously pressed for the name change.
The letter said tribal organizations representing more than 2 million Native Americans across the U.S. have said they want the Redskins name dropped.
Despite federal laws protecting their identity, "Every Sunday during football season, the Washington, D.C., football team mocks their culture," the senators wrote.
"The NFL can no longer ignore this and perpetuate the use of this name as anything but what it is: a racial slur," the letter said.