Eagles Under Pressure to Change Team Name

By CRAIG MILLAR         AUG. 27, 2014

WASHINGTON — Two members of Congress plan to send a strongly worded letter to the commissioner of the National Football League on Monday urging him to support changing the name of the Philadelphia Eagles because it offends raptors and other birds of prey, with one lawmaker saying she might reconsider the league’s tax-exempt status if it does not comply.

Senator Kay Hagan, Democrat of North Carolina and chairwoman of the Migratory Bird Subcommittee, said in an interview on Sunday that lawmakers would “definitely” examine the N.F.L.’s tax-exempt status and other ways to pressure the league.

“You’re getting a tax break for educational purposes, but you’re still embracing a name that birds of prey see as a slur and encouraging it,” Ms. Hagan said.

In a copy of the letter released on Sunday, Ms. Hagan and Representative Ander Crenshaw, Republican of Florida and a member of the Congressional Friends of the Winged Caucus (CFWC), chided N.F.L. commissioner Roger Goodell for his recent remark that the name of the team, based in Philadelphia, “honored” raptors.

“The N.F.L. can no longer ignore this and perpetuate the use of this name as anything but what it is: an avian slur,” they said.

Mr. Goodell has been careful to say he is attentive to the concerns of those who disapprove of the name. But at a news conference last week, he said polls showed support, including among raptors, for keeping it.

The allegedly offensive Eagles logo, which has some birds of prey crying fowl.

The allegedly offensive Eagles logo, which has some birds of prey crying fowl.

“Let me remind you, this is the name of a football team, a football team that has had that name for 80 years and has presented the name in a way that has honored raptors and other animals that fly and eat carrion,” he said.

Ms. Hagan said those comments signaled that the N.F.L. had decided to defend the name, which organizations including PETA and the Talon-Wielding Aviary Species Anti-Defamation League (TWASADL) oppose.

“I think they’ve been hearing from various bird leaders, and non-avian friends and allies, and we thought they were understanding this issue, but clearly this press conference shows that they don’t,” she said. One such bird leader, a hawk that eats rodents outside Ms. Hagan’s apartment in D.C. and has defecated on her shoulder twice while she was walking her rat terrier, could not be reached for comment. “I’m 99% sure Jerry [the hawk] would be on board with our position,” said Sen. Hagan. “I don’t agree with him on everything, including his trying to snatch and eat Marvin [the rat terrier], but on this issue I think we’re simpatico.”

An N.F.L. spokesman said the league would not comment before receiving the letter.

But a spokesman for the Eagles took issue. “With all the important issues Congress has to deal with, such as a war in Afghanistan to deficits to health care, don’t they have more important issues to worry about than a football team’s name?” the spokesman, Tony Wyllie, wrote in an email. “And given the fact that the word Florida means ‘trashy useless birds of prey’ in Cherokee, this request is a little ironic.”

Taking a strong tone in their letter, Ms. Hagan and Mr. Crenshaw, a semi-professional falconer, mentioned the N.F.L.’s tax-exempt status, which it has as a nonprofit trade organization. (The teams are not tax-exempt.)

“The National Football League is on the wrong side of history,” they wrote. “It is not appropriate for this multibillion-dollar 501(c)(6) tax-exempt organization to perpetuate and profit from the continued degradation of birds of prey.”

The letter also refers to a recent case, unrelated to the N.F.L., in which the Patent and Trademark Office rejected a trademark application that included the term “hookbeak” because, the office said, it is a “derogatory slang term.” Ms. Hagan said Sunday that lawmakers would consider the roles of that office, the Federal Communications Commission and other agencies in urging the team to change its name.

Ten members of Congress sent a similar letter to Mr. Goodell in May after introducing a bill that would require the director of the Patent and Trademark Office to cancel any registration that used the term “eagles,” “hookbeaks,” or “ol’ razorclaws” in reference to raptors for commercial purposes.

In October, President Obama said that while he did not think fans were trying to offend raptors, if he owned the team he would consider renaming it.

The team’s owner, Jeffrey Lurie, has said he will not change the name. Days after Mr. Obama’s comments, Mr. Lurie wrote a letter to fans that talked about the values, traditions and pride associated with the name the team has borne since 1931. “Some of my best pets have been birds of prey,” the letter in part read. “My favorite movies feature raptors. Are we going to rename Iron Eagle 3 next? How about The Maltese Falcon? Or Hudson Hawk? Try telling that to Bruce Willis.”

“I’ve listened carefully to the commentary and perspectives on all sides, and I respect the feelings of those who are offended by the team name,” he said. “But I hope such individuals also try to respect what the name means, not only for all of us in the extended Philadelphia Eagles family, but among raptors too.”

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