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Domino effect: Washington football team’s name, statues in DC, in Capitol, face removal

The team’s owner announced the change after recent weeks of intense corporate pressure

Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium (originally District of Columbia Stadium (D.C. Stadium), commonly RFK Stadium or RFK) is a multi-purpose stadium, located near the confluence of the Anacostia and Potomac Rivers in Washington, D.C.
Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium (originally District of Columbia Stadium (D.C. Stadium), commonly RFK Stadium or RFK) is a multi-purpose stadium, located near the confluence of the Anacostia and Potomac Rivers in Washington, D.C. (Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The nation’s recent reckoning with racial injustice is prompting movement on long-intractable symbols spanning the gamut from Washington’s multi-billion dollar football team to statues abutting the White House and within the Capitol.

As word came Monday that Washington’s NFL franchise has played its final season with a name long considered a slur against Native Americans — that could also mean it is one step closer to bringing the team back to the District, D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton says.

Owner Daniel Snyder has resisted the name change for years, but announced Monday the football club would change its name to something TBD.

[Does Congress have the leverage to force a name change for Washington’s football team?]

Norton — a vocal critic of the name — praised the decision, which Snyder made after recent weeks of intense corporate pressure.

“Dan Snyder has withstood my bills. He has withstood years of criticism. But it turns out that he could not withstand the virtual demand of the advertisers,” Norton said.

Calls from business interests included FedEx, which holds the naming rights to the Washington Redskins’ stadium, called on the team to change its name, and major retailers like Nike stopped selling team apparel.

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Norton filed a bill last year titled the “RFK Memorial Stadium Campus Conveyance Act,” which calls for the sale of the 190-acre Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium Campus to the city.

The bill had not made an appearance in the House Natural Resources Committee, which oversees the National Park Service, the site’s current landowner — in-part because of the team name. Snyder has expressed a desire to move the team back to the District. The team left RFK Stadium on the eastern edge of Capitol Hill for Landover, Md., to its current stadium in 1997.

Norton said there are no longer any “serious obstacles” that she can think of that would keep her bill from moving forward.

Moving the team back to the District is expected to still face headwinds, because of disagreement among city officials about what the future of the RFK site should look like, she said. Regardless where the team eventually plays, the removal of the now-retired name will ultimately be important.

“I think the name change is going to be important for him to land anywhere near the nation’s capital, much less in the nation’s capital,” she said.

A letter signed by half of the Senate was sent to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell in 2014 urging the name be changed.

Statues in D.C.

The monument of team founder George Preston Marshall, who refused to integrate the team until it was the last holdout in the league, was toppled in June. But that wasn’t a team decision — Events DC, which owns and operates RFK Stadium ordered its removal.

Norton has also filed legislation calling for the removal of other statues in the District and placing them in museums so they can be put in the proper context.

“I’m not for trashing these statues; I want to be clear on that,” she said. “I’m for placing these statues in museums and using them to tell the story of our country.”

Norton filed legislation calling for removing the Andrew Jackson statue from Lafayette Park, citing Jackson’s ownership of slaves and harsh treatment of Native Americans.

She also introduced a bill to remove the Emancipation Memorial statue in Lincoln Park on Capitol Hill, saying it was a “problematic depiction of the fight to achieve emancipation.”

The statue of President Abraham Lincoln holding a copy of the Emancipation Proclamation standing over a male slave on one knee who has broken his chains has come under fire by protesters in recent months.

A group called UrbanCURE, which lists a D.C. address and says it is “dedicated to fighting poverty and restoring dignity in urban communities,” is slated to hold an event at the statue Tuesday to call on legislators to preserve it.

“This Freedmen’s Statue should not only remain standing in Lincoln Park, but this is the sacred location where President Trump should place the new Memorial Park he envisions to honor great American heroes who worked tirelessly to unify the races,” a statement from Star Parker, founder of UrbanCURE said. The message went out with the subject line: “Conservative African-American leaders rally Tuesday to save D.C.’s ‘Freedmen’s Memorial.’”

Norton pushed back, saying those who align with President Donald Trump on defending such statues and monuments is counter to what she believes the country should do to learn from the statues.

“Trump has indicated that he wants these statues left up, He has indicated that they should remain standing,” she said. “That’s one of the reason his standing is going down.”

Moving statues in the Capitol

Meanwhile, the House will vote early next week on legislation to remove traces of the Confederacy and racism in the Capitol, according to House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, starting with replacing the bust of the author of the Supreme Court’s Dred Scott decision with the first Black justice.

The legislation by Hoyer, Majority Whip James E. Clyburn, Congressional Black Caucus Chairwoman Karen Bass and Reps. G.K. Butterfield, Barbara Lee and Bennie Thompson would “replace the bust of Chief Justice Roger B. Taney in the Old Supreme Court Chamber with one of Justice Thurgood Marshall” and “require states to reclaim and replace any statues in the National Statuary Hall Collection of individuals who volunteered for the armed services of the Confederacy during the Civil War. It would also specifically remove three statues — of John C. Calhoun, Charles B. Aycock, and John C. Clarke — from the collection because of those individuals’ role in defending slavery, segregation, and white supremacy.”