After months of heated debate across the country, now California lawmakers have decided to tackle the ongoing controversy over the name of the NFL’s Washington Redskins. On Monday, bill ACR-168, which urged the league to change the team’s name, calling it a “racial slur and to promote discrimination against Native Americans,” was passed with an overwhelming majority of 51-4.
The dispute over the name, which has simmered over the last decade before exploding into a scandal this year, entered the political realm with President Barack Obama, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Attorney General Eric Holder, among other high-ranking officials, calling for the football team to change its name and mascot. Phil Simms, a CBS football broadcaster, has also hinted that he will not use the name “Redskins” in his future broadcasts, referring to the team solely as “Washington.”
Many fans have also agreed with the proposed name change. A poll released by Vox Populi shows 65 percent of NFL fans are in favor of the D.C.-area sports team changing its name and mascot.
While the name change controversy has been brewing for months, it hit a particular chord this past week in the wake of another racially-charged scandal - the fatal shooting of an unarmed black teenager, Michael Brown, in Ferguson, Missouri. Redskins players reacted to the news by entering their home field on Monday night with their hands raised – a gesture that alludes to the witness accounts that Brown raised his hands above his head before he was shot by the police officer.
“That could have been any one of us,” free safety Ryan Clark told CBS. “That could have been any one of our brothers, our cousins… When you get an opportunity to make a statement, and be more than a football player, it’s good.”
On the sidelines, however, team management has a different take. Washington Redskins team owner, Dan Snyder, has refused to budge on changing the team’s name, saying it represents honor and respect, he told ESPN earlier this month. On Aug. 14, the team formally appealed a ruling made by the U.S. Patent Trademark Trial and Appeal Board that canceled the trademark held by the Redskins on June 18 in a 2-1 vote.
In terms of the California Assembly, just four of the 59 members voted nay on Bill ACR-168. Below are brief bios of the assembly members and how their past actions may have informed their latest vote:
Former gubernatorial candidate Tim Donnelly (R-Twin Peaks) has been the most outspoken member of the opposition to ACR 168, calling the measure a waste of time.
“Prior to this being brought public by politicians there had never been a single complaint on record,” Donnelly said of the team name. “For us to stand here and debate the names of football teams so that we as Americans who treasure the freedom of speech can now have the right to not be offended, is offensive.”
While Donnelly’s comments do not blatantly address the racial undertones of the bill, the 48-year-old politician has made derogatory statements in the past.
In April, Buzzfeed obtained a recording of a 2006 speech Donnelly made at a Save Our Nation event where he drew comparisons between illegal immigration and the war in Iraq. He said there was “a growing insurgency, right here in Los Angeles” akin to ones in “Baghdad, Samarra, and Tikrit.”
He went on to say, “I am a decedent of Jim Bowie, who died at the Alamo. It is rumored that he took a dozen Mexican soldiers to their deaths before they finally killed him. How many of you will rise up and take his place on that wall?”
In May, Donnelly incited controversy after he posted on Facebook disparaging comments about his primary opponent Neel Kashkari, accusing him of supporting the imposition of sharia law in the United States when he served as Undersecretary of the Treasury.
Other Republicans distanced themselves from Donnelly’s remarks. Harmeet Dhillon, vice chair of the state Republican Party, told the Los Angeles Times Donnelly’s post was an attempt “to trade on bigotry, racism, hatred of the other, hysteria.”
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif) also denounced Donnelly’s remarks. "There is no place in any public discussion for this type of hateful and ignorant garbage," Issa said in a statement. "As far as I'm concerned, this type of stupidity disqualifies Tim Donnelly from being fit to hold any office, anywhere. Donnelly is no longer a viable option for California voters."
Donnelly, who was later defeated in the primaries by Kashkari, says his personal choices show he is not racist.
"If I am a racist, I'm not a very good one," Donnelly told CNN en Español's "Directo USA" show. "I must have gone to the wrong school where you learn how to be a racist because I married a woman with dark skin,” he said referring to his wife who is from the Philippines.
Still, Donnelly’s political decisions continue to incite controversy. In May he cast the sole assembly vote against a bill that would bar the sale of the Confederate flag on state property. He does not support gun registration and has compared President Obama's gun policies to those of Adolf Hitler.
Diane Harkey, Allan Mansoor and Scott Wilk
The three remaining opponents for ACR 168 share relatively low-key profiles in comparison.
Diane Harkey (R-Dana Point), Allan Mansoor (R-Costa Mesa) and Scott Wilk (R- Santa Clarita) have similar voting records in terms of immigration measures. They each voted against bills that authorize driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants, another that allows non-U.S. citizens to serve on juries and a law that prohibits law enforcement from detaining an individual based solely on their immigration status – all of which were passed by the House.