Two members of British Parliament have written to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell advocating a name change for the Washington Redskins before next season, when the team is scheduled to face the Cincinnati Bengals in London, according to documents obtained by ESPN. And if the league refuses? “Send a different team to our country to represent the sport, one that does not promote a racial slur,” the letter suggests.
Brian McCarthy, a spokesperson for the NFL, confirmed receipt of the letter to ESPN’s Mike Wise and reiterated the league’s position that team names are “a club decision.” In 2013, after Redskins owner Dan Snyder emphatically insisted the team’s name would never change, Roger Goodell supported him, calling the name a “unifying force” standing for “respect.”
The NFL breached the UK market in 2007, when regular season play began at London’s Wembley Stadium. Now, the city hosts three games a year, and the league is considering additional play in foreign markets. The audience for American football in Britain appears to be growing, and that’s a priority for the NFL. In the past decade, participation in amateur play has risen consistently, and the NFL has established an online store in Europe, as well as an NFL UK site. Perhaps more telling of the UK interest in gridiron football, the country’s biggest betting shops, like William Hill and Ladbrokes, now take wagers on all NFL games and see significant spikes when the games are played abroad.
Notably, a history of racism in British sporting has led the nation’s parliament and courts to take a strong stance against racially offensive language. Racist fans are regularly banned from matches and the UK’s Football Offenses Act of 1991 specifically forbids chanting “of a racialist nature.” All of this is sticky for the NFL International Series games, which have historically been aired by the taxpayer funded BBC. MP Ruth Smeeth, co-author to the Goodell letter, suggested that the network may have problems airing the event if it contains the word “redskins”. “This is not the image the NFL wants portrayed in the UK,” she told reporters.
Tickets for the October game go on sale Monday.
— Washington Redskins (@Redskins) February 29, 2016