50 Democrats urge the NFL to rename the Washington Redskins

Verlin Deer In Water, a member of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, shows his t-shirt during an interview in Washington, Monday, Oct. 7, 2013, calling for the Washington Redskins NFL football team to change its name, prior to the start of the Oneida Indian Nation's Change the Mascot symposium. Carolyn Kaster, AP

Fifty senators, all members of the Democratic caucus, are urging the National Football League to rename Washington, D.C.'s football team.

In a letter to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, 49 senators said that the team's name, the Washington Redskins, amounts to a "racial slur." The senators urged Goodell to take a cue from the National Basketball Association, which punished Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling for making racist remarks.

"The Washington, D.C. football team is on the wrong side of history," said the letter, spearheaded by Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. "What message does it send to punish slurs against African Americans while endorsing slurs against Native Americans?"

Noting that every national Tribal organization has weighed in on the issue, passing resolutions in support of a name change, the senators called it "a matter of tribal sovereignty."

"At the heart of sovereignty for tribes is their identity," the letter says. "Yet every Sunday during football season, the Washington, D.C. football team mocks their culture."

Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., sent his own brief letter to Goodell saying the team's name is not "appropriate in this day and age."

Notably, Virginia's two Democratic senators, Tim Kaine and Mark Warner, did not sign either letter. The Washington team is based out of Ashburn, Va. (though their stadium is in Maryland; both of Maryland's senators signed the letter). Along with Kaine and Warner, the other Democratic senators who did not sign the letter were Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Joe Donnelly of Indiana and Mark Pryor of Arkansas.

Team owner Dan Snyder has resisted calls to change the team name and instead last month formed a new foundation to benefit Native Americans.

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