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Ray Halbritter, national representative of the Oneida Indian Nation, gestures as he speaks during the Oneida Indian Nation's Change the Mascot symposium, Monday, Oct. 7, 2013, in Washington, calling for the Washington NFL football team to change its name. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
NFL: Lawmakers and D.C. team spar over mascot name
First Published Feb 10 2014 11:43 am • Last Updated Feb 10 2014 11:10 pm

Ashburn, Va. • The latest back-and-forth over Washington’s team name includes a stern letter from two lawmakers and a new "community voices" campaign from the team.

A letter sent Monday from Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., and Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., tells NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell that the league is on "the wrong side of history" and mentions the league’s tax-exempt status. Cantwell chairs the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs.

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The lawmakers specifically objected to Goodell’s Super Bowl week news conference, when he said Washington’s Redskins team name has been "presented in a way that honors Native Americans."

"It is, in fact, an insult to Native Americans," the letter states.

NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said the league will respond to the letter "in an appropriate manner" once it has been reviewed.

Team spokesman Tony Wyllie responded to the letter with an email statement, saying: "With all the important issues Congress has to deal with, such as a war in Afghanistan to deficits to health care, don’t they have more important issues to worry about than a football team’s name?"

That prompted a statement from Ray Halbritter of the Oneida Indian Nation, which has been at the forefront of the push to change the team’s name.

"While the Washington team somehow claims that Congress has better things to do than intervene in a serious issue that involves taxpayer dollars, it is the exact opposite: Congress has a responsibility to the American people to put an end to this kind of taxpayer-subsidized bigotry," Halbritter said.

The team also countered by saying it’s received "almost 200" letters and emails in recent months in support of the name from people who identified themselves as Native Americans or as family members of Native Americans. They say they’ve received only seven letters from Native Americans opposed to the name. The team released excerpts from the letters and called them "community voices."

"We should not turn our back on these Native Americans," the team’s statement said. "Their voices deserve to be heard."


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AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org



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