Saturday, May 24, 2014

Alaska Senator Mark Begich Reaps Strong Negative Backlash After Signing Senatorial Letter Demanding The Washington Redskins Change Their Nickname

A total of 50 U.S. Senators have signed letters to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell demanding that the Washington Redskins change their nickname. The senators believe the term "Redskins" is a racial slur and are playing the tribal sovereignty card, although they do not specify how any American Indians or Alaska Natives would benefit economically from a name change.

-- PDF copy of U.S. Senate letter

The effort was actually organized by Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA). A total of 49 senators signed the letter organized by Cantwell, all Democrats except for Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Angus King of Maine, who are officially "Independent" but who caucus with the Democrats. Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) expressed similar sentiments in his own separate letter to the NFL. The only five Democrats who chose not to sign the letter were Mark Warner and Tim Kaine of Virginia, Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Joe Donnelly of Indiana. Cantwell said she did not ask any Republicans to sign the letter.

This means that our very own Boy Wonder, Mark Begich, signed Cantwell's letter. Of course, Begich is undoubtedly playing to the sizable Alaska Native constituency in Alaska, although I do not recall that the Washington Redskins were an item of major concern at any recent Alaska Federation of Natives (AFN) convention. In fact, many Alaska Natives are more concerned about getting more jobs in Bush Alaska, reducing alcohol abuse and domestic violence in Bush villages, and firming up police protection by getting authority to arm village public safety officers. Begich did not address his decision on his official U.S. Senate website, but he did post the following explanation on his Facebook page:

Today I joined my Senate colleagues asking NFL Commissioner Goodell to respect the request of the Native American Tribes (and people across the nation) who want to change the name of the Washington Redskins. We should be honoring our nation’s First Peoples, not using racial slurs.

In response to the letter, NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy politely rejected the request, noting that the intent of the team’s name has always been to present a strong, positive and respectful image, and that the name is not used by the team or the NFL in any other context. Although Redskins' owner Daniel Snyder declined comment, he has previously vowed not to change the team's nickname, saying that lawmakers should focus on real-life issues and needs. Nevertheless, Redskins' President Bruce Allen sent a letter addressed to Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) inviting him to attend one of their home games, where he would witness first-hand that the Washington Redskins are a positive, unifying force for our community in a city and region that is divided on so many levels

-- Read Allen's letter

Surveys nationwide indicate anywhere from 80 to 90 percent of respondents oppose forcing the Washington Redskins to change their nickname, and much of that backlash was proportionally reflected on Begich's Facebook page. Some of the comments (after the jump):

Richard Nash Jr. May 22 at 10:54am:
You are a COWARD. The Name is Not racist. You are Not a fan of the Team and you just want to be ignorant! All of a sudden this is Racist. Get off it. They should be HONORED a Team is using the Name. Honoring the Indians and there tribes.

Edward Dailey May 22 at 11:03am:
Mr Begich, with all due respect, if you are wasting your time trying to bully a team into changing their name then Sir, you are doing the people you represent, yourself, your state, your party, your position and your nation a disservice... Perhaps focus on things that matter instead of jumping on a bandwagon.

David Levandusky May 22 at 11:17am:
Are those same Senators going to sign a letter that will demand many cities or towns change their Indian names as well? After we took their land why should we name a town after them. That is offensive to Native American Indians isn't it?

Christina Gonzales May 22 at 12:26pm:
Do you honestly NOT have enough to do in your cushy little Senate office all day? How about you start working on reducing my business taxes and regulations? How about that for starters!!!! You people make me sick. I am so tired of you people wasting the money and time of the American people!!!

James Montgomery Jr. May 22 at 3:21pm:
Great the VA is killing Veterans and you're worried about an out of date name of a football team. What is the deal with your name on a bill denying bennys to the Vets? Is that true?

Fortunately, we Alaskans have three prominent Republicans who could take down Mark Begich in November 2014. In August, we will choose between former DNR Commissioner Dan Sullivan, who seems to be the Beltway's choice as evidenced by the massive amount of Outside money flowing into his campaign, and the two more Alaskan candidates, Mead Treadwell and Joe Miller. While all are fundamentally honorable men, Joe Miller has positioned himself as more conservative than the other two, and he's beginning to whittle away at the high negatives previously hindering his campaign.


  1. The name "Redskins" never bothered me. Maybe because I'm almost all European American, with a Cherokee Gr-Grandmother.
    However, ever since Columbus thought he'd landed on India, I have despised the use of "Indian" for the native Americans. It makes us whites look willfully ignorant and arrogant to perpetuate it. What if we whites were all called Brits because we speak English? I'm proud of being Scottish, Welsh, German, and Cherokee. And I get tired of whites being demonized, when we all have much to be proud of, and some things to be ashamed of. Ultimately, the word "Redskins" can be a source of great pride, or offensive. Just hope the political groups don't decide for (all of) us.


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  3. The word redskin is a derogatory, offensive epithet coined by Anglo-American colonists to degrade and objectify the people whose lands they were expropriating, whose women they were raping, whose children they were massacring. Moreover, sports team names invariably invoke images of a distant past--Cowboys, Vikings, Pirates--rather than extant people. We not only oppose the use of the racial epithet, but also the notion that we are relics of some bygone romantic era. The majority of Native team names should be changed; they sugg

  4. est we no longer exist and are not a modern people. We are not 19th century icons; we are still here, and still fighting for our lands, for sovereignty, and for an end to cruel stereotypes embodied in words like Redskin.
    Dave Stephenson, Tlingit

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