The Washington Redskins are scheduled to play in London during the 2016 NFL season, but some of Britain’s most important decision-makers aren’t welcoming the defending NFC East champs with open arms. Two members of British Parliament have told NFL commissioner Roger Goodell that they don’t want a team named after a racial slur playing at Wembley Stadium.
Ruth Smeeth and Ian Austin, who belong to the British Labor Party, sent Goodell a letter on Feb. 2, explaining why they don’t want the Oct. 30 game between the Redskins and Cincinnati Bengals to take place. The members of Parliament asked the NFL to either change Washington’s name or send a different team in their place.
“While the expansion of the NFL and American Football to the UK is something to be commended and will surely delight the many fans of the sport based in Britain, we have serious concerns about the league’s exportation of a racial slur that comes alongside this,” the letter reads. “As one of the US’ biggest cultural exports finds success in the UK the sport’s values and standards come with it. Unfortunately, it is apparent that within these values there is a deliberate insensitivity and apparent hostility to a prominent minority group.”
"We were shocked to learn the derivation of the term 'R*dskin,' pertaining as it does to the historic abuse of Native Americans, including the production of a piece of flesh as proof of kill by bounty hunters. The exportation of this racial slur to the UK this autumn, when the Washington team is due to play, directly contravenes the values that many in Britain have worked so hard to instill."
The call to change the Redskins’ name has picked up steam in the last few years. Washington owner Daniel Snyder has been steadfast in his decision to keep the name, and a league spokesman responded to the letter by saying it’s up to the team, according to ESPN.com.
Seventeen NFL games have been played in London since 2007, and the number of contests in England’s capital is only increasing. Three games have been played in London in each season since 2014.
But Smeeth and Austin remain against the Redskins playing in their country. Several members of Parliament met with members of the Change the Mascot campaign in January.
ChangeTheMascot.org was launched in 2013.
“Sending a team with a clearly racist name and mascot to a country with a proud tradition of working to eliminate racism in sports completely undermines NFL attempts to export its brand overseas,” Change the Mascot leaders Oneida Indian Nation Representative Ray Halbritter and National Congress of American Indians Executive Director Jackie Pata said in a statement. “The NFL and Washington’s team should be receiving the message loud and clear that they are making a grievous error by trying to shop the harmful and bigoted R-word slur overseas. It is heartening to see leading officials in Britain demonstrating their commitment to fighting for equality and opposing racism in U.S. sports, just as they have historically in the UK. Perpetuating the slurring of people of color runs counter to American and British ideals of respect and tolerance.”
The U.K. has very strict anti-racism laws in sports, largely because of the way some black soccer players have been treated. The laws allow teams to be heavily fined or banned from various leagues.
Having the game broadcast in the U.K. could also become an issue. The British Broadcasting Corporation airs the locally played NFL games, and Smeeth says the BBC could have a problem covering the game because the network is funded by taxpayers.
A BBC spokesperson told ESPN.com that the network hasn’t made any special preparations regarding Washington’s name.
Click here to read the letter that was sent to Goodell in its entirety.