Federal Government Threatens To Hold Up New Redskins Stadium Unless Team Changes Name
In the latest round in the ongoing saga involving the name of the Washington Redskins, the Obama Administration is apparently threatening to block efforts by the team to build a new stadium in Washington, D.C. unless the team name is changed:
Efforts to lure the Washington Redskins back to the District have come up against a potentially insurmountable challenge: the Obama administration’s objections to the team’s name.
Interior Secretary Sally Jewell told D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser this spring that the National Park Service, which owns the land beneath Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium, was unlikely to accommodate construction of a new stadium for the Redskins unless the team changes its name.
Jewell oversees both national park land and America’s trust and treaty relationships with Native American tribes.
Her decision not to extend the District’s lease of the RFK land badly hinders Bowser’s bid to return the Redskins to D.C. — and boosts efforts to lure the team across the Potomac to Northern Virginia.
Since joining the Obama administration two years ago, Jewell has repeatedly echoed the president’s concern that the name is offensive to Native Americans. Last fall she called the name a “relic of the past” that should be changed.
“Personally, I think we would never consider naming a team the ‘Blackskins’ or the ‘Brownskins’ or the ‘Whiteskins.’ So, personally, I find it surprising that in this day and age, the name is not different,” Jewell told ABC News.
Jewell reiterated that position with Bowser (D) at an April 27 meeting, telling the mayor that she was unlikely to rework the lease terms for a stadium in part because of the team’s name, according to a Department of the Interior spokeswoman, Jessica Kershaw.
Team owner Daniel Snyder, who insists that the moniker honors Native Americans, has vowed never to change it.
Bowser, jockeying with Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) to land the team’s new stadium, had inquired with Park Service officials about extending the District’s lease for the RFK property to allow for a new stadium. Extending the lease would also require congressional action.
Jewell “did mention in that meeting that she was uncomfortable with the name,” Kershaw said. “The president has said something similar, that he is uncomfortable with the name, and she clearly clarified that position.”
A second factor the secretary raised, Kershaw said, was that with just 18 months remaining in the Obama administration, re-working the lease was not likely to be a top concern before the president leaves office. D.C. owns RFK stadium but leases the 190 acres beneath the stadium as well as surrounding parking lots and land from the park service. The lease expires in 22 years.
“Given the timing, this is not likely to be a priority for this administration,” Kershaw said.
Robert A. Vogel, regional director of the Park Service, responded formally to the mayor’s request for a lease extension in a May 19 letter.
“As I believe the Secretary made clear in our discussion, the NPS will not take a position in support of such an extension at this time,” he wrote in the letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Post. “You are, of course, free to seek such legislation without NPS support.”
The Park Service’s position hampers Bowser’s bid to return the team to the city from FedEx Field, in Prince George’s County, a stadium that is only 18 years old but that the team is trying to vacate before its lease there expires in 2026. Team officials, citing fan complaints about the stadium’s configuration, have removed seats from FedEx three times in five years.
Bowser spokesman Michael Czin declined to comment. Redskins spokesman Tony Wyllie also declined to comment.
The Redskins current stadium, FedEx Field, is less than twenty years old and many people have expressed skepticism about the idea of opening a new stadium even while the useful life of the current facility is certainly nowhere near its end. At the same time, though, the moves to put the Washington Nationals in a stadium in the city and move the city’s soccer team, D.C. United, to a new facility in town rather than the Virginia suburbs as had been threatened has led many city leaders to call on the team to move back into the city. Additionally, the location of FedEx Field has long been a sore point with fans due to its inconvenient lack of access to mass transit and the fact that traffic on game days on the Washington Beltway in the area by the stadium generally grinds to a halt , As a result, it’s been an open secret for the past several years that the Redskins are looking for a new stadium and that they’d prefer to move back into the District proper if possible.
The logistical arguments about a new stadium aside, this is obviously just another example of how the Federal Government has been trying to pressure the Redskins into changing their team name over the past several years as well as a broader social campaign about the issue that has led some sportscasters to even stop saying the name “Redskins.” As I noted when the Patent and Trademark Office issued its ruling revoking some of the team’s trademarks, a ruling that is currently under appeal, even conceding the point that some may find the name “Redskins” offensive, there’s something troubling about the government using pressure and the law to force a private business to conform to its standards of propriety. There’s nothing illegal about the team name, nor should there be, and it really shouldn’t be the business of government officials to force Dan Snyder or anyone else to bend to their will like this. From what I’ve read today, many people who have been calling for the name of the team to change thing that the Federal Government has the team over a barrel here because the Department of Interior would need to approve and future use of the land where RFK Stadium is currently located. I tend to doubt it, though. There are several other parts of the city where a stadium could be built, including the areas near Nationals Park, or more likely the area known as Buzzard’s Point where the United are building their new stadium. If that doesn’t work, then the team is likely to either stay where they are for now, or look to Virginia for a location like they did two decades ago. In any case, as I’ve said before, the name of the Redskins will change when the owners of the team are ready to do it. That’s how it ought to be and the Federal Government really needs to stay out of this.
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