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Three northern Virginia legislators have formed a bipartisan, bicameral “[Pigskins] Pride Caucus” to represent fans of Washington’s football team—-fans who are presumably against attempts to compel team owner Dan Snyder to change the team’s name. The announcement of the new group comes days after the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office voted to strip the team of its federal trademark protections because it’s “disparaging to Native Americans.”
Del. Jackson Miller (R-Manassas), State Sen. Chap Petersen (D-Fairfax City), and Del. David Ramadan (R-Loudoun) are the three lawmakers behind the new group.
“The team has been battered in the media, politically, and everything else. I wanted people to know that there are some of us that are proud to be [Pigskins],” says Peterson (pictured), a longtime fan of the team who holds season tickets. “When the [trademark] decision came down, I felt like I was living in an alternative universe.”
The dictionary defines the name of the Washington football team’s name as a typically offensive term for Native Americans. Snyder has argued that the team name is actually used to honor the legacy of Native Americans and under no circumstances should be changed.
“You are assuming a fact that the team name is a racial slur. According to who? According to you?” Petersen says in an interview with City Desk this afternoon. “In the 18th or 19th century, it was not derogatory. It was used by Native Americans to differentiate themselves by their red skins… I agree that it’s archaic, you wouldn’t name a team that if it were named today, I get that.”
This new caucus hopes to give fans of the team like Petersen a platform to have their voices heard. It will also oppose what it says is the inappropriate involvement of the U.S. Senate in the controversy surrounding the team name. In May, 50 Democratic senators wrote a letter to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell urging him to force Snyder to change the name. Notably missing from the list were the two Democratic senators from Virginia—-the state where the team has its headquarters—-who opted not to the sign the letter. (Sen. Tim Kaine has come out against the name in the past, and Sen. Mark Warner says it is not the role of Congress to tell the team what to do.)
“I think a lot of people and politicians have superficial knowledge of the issue,” Petersen says. “There’s a sort of theme that [Pigskins] fans are bad people or racist people… I put the diversity of the crowd at a [Pigskins] game up against the U.S. Senate any day.”
Petersen says that, like anything else in life, people who are offended by the name simply shouldn’t go to the games or support the team. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who organized the letter, may be taking that advice; he recently rejected an invitation to attend one of the team’s games and says he won’t go to a game until the team changes its name.
The future of Petersen’s own relationship with the team could hinge on the name: He says he’s not sure whether he would remain a fan of his hometown team if its name were to change.
“That’s hard to say,” he says. “The reason why I support the team is for the tradition and if that tradition were to change… I don’t just support teams because it’s a generic team from Washington, D.C. We’ll cross that bridge when it comes.”
Petersen, Miller, and Ramadan will join other legislators in Richmond this afternoon to announce the formation of the new caucus. The caucus is also intended to show its support for commercial freedom in the state and the rights of businesses to own their own brands and intellectual property, according to a legislative assistant from Miller’s office.
Photo by VCU CNS via Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0