The Washington Redskins took on Democrats in the U.S. Senate on Friday, telling Majority Leader Harry Reid that his efforts to orchestrate a campaign to force a team name change were misguided and failed to recognize the name’s “deep and personal meaning.”
“I hope you will attend one of our home games, where you would witness first-hand that the Washington Redskins are a positive, unifying force for our community in a city and region that is divided on so many levels,” team President Bruce Allen wrote Mr. Reid.
The letter offered several rebuttals to arguments that Mr. Reid and other Democratic senators made in a letter earlier this week asking the NFL to force the team to change its name because they considered it racially offensive.
• CLICK HERE TO VIEW ALLEN’S LETTER TO REID (PDF)
Mr. Allen argued the Redskins’ name “originated as a Native American expression of solidarity” and that the team logo was designed by Native Americans in 1971.
He also noted that 90 percent of Americans in one poll didn’t find the team name offensive, and that an Associated Press survey earlier this year found 83 percent of Americans supported keeping the team name.
“What policy or issue generates 83 percent to 90 percent support is this era of negativity and division?” he asked.
The team also played up its recent charitable efforts through a new foundation that in just two months has funded 40 projects to help Native Americans. “It is our mission to help tackle the troubling realities facing so many tribes across our country,” Mr. Allen wrote.
Fifty U.S. senators, all Democrats except for one independent, sent a letter earlier this week to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, urging him to force Redskins’ owner Daniel Snyder to change the team’s name.
“Today, we urge you and the National Football League to send the same clear message as the NBA did: that racism and bigotry have no place in professional sports,” the letter read. “It’s time for the NFL to endorse a name change for the Washington, D.C. football team.”
The letter went on to say that racist remarks from soon to be ex-L.A. Clippers owner Donald Sterling had opened up a national conversation about racism, and that Native American tribes from across the country had voiced their outrage on the name being racially insensitive.
“The NFL can no longer ignore this and perpetuate the use of this name as anything but what it is: a racial slur,” the letter read.
Mr. Reid was among those who signed the letter
“I have 22 tribal organizations in Nevada,” he told the New York Times. “They are not mascots. They are human beings. And this term Redskins is offensive to them.”
The team’s response came the same day the rapper Wale, a big Redskins fan, went to Twitter to accuse Mr. Reid of trying to use race for political attention.
The rapper, whose real name is Olubowale Akintimehin and whose songs include “Bad” and “Ambition,” criticized the letter-writing effort as politically opportunistic.
“Basically he tryna use racism to make a bigger name for his self,” he tweeted Friday morning. “I’m not into politics like that but it’s a right an wrong thing.”
“Senator Reid don’t know anything about Washington team,” Mr. Akintimehin continued. “And I doubt he cares. He just using a sensitive time to garner attention. Easy call.”
He said it was strange that Reid, who once called then-presidential candidate Barack Obama “light skinned…with no Negro dialect,” was suddenly “a crusader for what’s right in race.”
The D.C. football team has been called the Redskins since 1933, before the team moved from Boston to Washington. Team leaders, including Mr. Snyder, have said the name is meant to honor the bravery and courage of Native Americans, while others have labeled it a derogatory nickname.
The issue received renewed attention last year. In October, NBC sportscaster Bob Costas spoke about it during the halftime of a Sunday Night Football game.
“It’s an insult, a slur, no matter how benign the present day intent,” he said.
President Obama likewise said he would consider changing the team name if he were the owner, stating he wasn’t certain that people’s attachment to the name would override the concerns of Native Americans.
• Phillip Swarts contributed to this article.