Fifty Democratic Senators signed a letter to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell on Wednesday to pressure the Washington Redskins to change their team name — a move that like many actions of the U.S. Senate should have no political effect.
The letter, obtained by The New York Times specifically calls the name a "racial slur," and compares the speed with which the NBA took action against racist remarks from Clippers owner Donald Sterling to the NFL's continued support of the racist name.
"Today, 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. It's time for the NFL to endorse a name change for the Washington, DC. football team."
The missive is important symbolically for the force of the letter and its number of supporters. "Listen, it is hard to get 50 people in this place to agree on anything," Sen. Maria Cantwell said. That means that if a vote in the U.S. Senate held any power over Daniel Snyder (which it doesn't), a majority of Senators probably support changing the name.
The letter was only circulated among Democratic Senators, and though many conservatives see the name change as a case of political correctness run amok, there may have been support among Republican leaders who didn't sign. Sen. John McCain said earlier this month that if he were the team's owner, "frankly I would probably change the name."
Even without McCain, a tied 50-50 Senate vote would be decided by the Vice President. And given President Obama's hesitant support for a name change — if he were owner, he said he'd "think about changing it" — it's likely that Joe Biden would vote for a name change.
Still, the letter is an important point in the growing opposition to the name. The league, in a statement, disagreed with the racist name charge, but did surprisingly acknowledge that "we respect those that view it differently." Admitting that people are offended by the name is a stark change of tone. "This is previously unceded ground being now treaded by the league," Deadspin writes.
ProFootballTalk questions how long that line of thought will last. "Does the league want one of its teams to carry a name on which a fair debate exists and lingers regarding whether the name represents blatant and open racism?" The opinions of a few politicians haven't made any difference so far, but the tide does seem to be turning against the team.