News & Politics

Virginia Legislators Form “Redskins Pride Caucus” to Defend Team’s Name

They’re really tired of all the criticism of Washington’s NFL team.

Virginia State Senator Chip Petersen, a big fan of the local NFL team. Photograph by Flickr user VCU CNS.

Several Virginia state legislators are taking a bold stand against what they see as a federal incursion against one of their state’s best-known companies. Meet the Redskins Pride Caucus, a club of delegates and state senators united in defense of Washington’s NFL team, which was stripped last week of its federal trademark protections because its name is, in the words of the US Patent and Trademark Office, “disparaging to Native Americans.”

Well, State Senator Chap Petersen and Delegates Jackson Miller and David Ramadan have had enough of what they call “inappropriate involvement” by the federal government in the ongoing conversation about the Washington team’s name. In a press release, they also say their new caucus is dedicated to “providing a voice” for fans and season-ticket holders; supporting the franchise as a business, which is headquartered in Ashburn; and supporting “commercial freedom” and intellectual property rights.

But the top priority appears to be defending a team name that, as its many critics point out, is defined by most dictionaries as a racial slur against Native Americans. Petersen, a Fairfax Democrat, is especially sensitive.

“As with so many recent opinions in the twilight of the Obama era, this one reeked of political correctness, i.e. the Orwellian principal that all viewpoints matter but some matter more than others,” he wrote on his blog following last week’s trademark ruling, which the team is appealing. “Ironically, the most disparaging sports names—‘Yankees,’ ‘Fighting Irish,’ ‘Canucks’—continue on undisturbed. Because insulting a group without a historic grievance is considered no insult at all.”

For the record: Merriam-Webster defines “yankee” as a native of New England or northern United States and “canuck” as a person born and raised in Canada; neither is defined as offensive. The origins of “fighting Irish” are apocryphal, ranging from a large number of Irish-American student-athletes at the University of Notre Dame to the appropriation of widespread anti-Catholic sentiment at the end of the 19th century. The Washington NFL team’s name comes from an attempt by original owner George Preston Marshall’s attempt to “honor” coach William Henry Dietz, whose claims of Native American ancestry remain disputed.

Petersen, Miller, and Ramadan are also cheesed by a May 22 letter from 50 Democratic US senators to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, urging him to persuade Washington owner Dan Snyder to change his team’s name. The team responded with a “#RedskinsPride” Twitter campaign, which backfired miserably.

But besides a bunch of local politicians giving themselves another platform to gripe about perceived federal overreach, the new caucus also gives the Washington team to trot out its recently hired lobbyists. According to the Associated Press, representatives from McGuireWoods passed through the Virginia State Capitol with bags of burgundy-and-gold team swag for interested lawmakers.

Staff Writer

Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.