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Obama weighs in on Redskins name controversy

The controversy over changing the Washington Redskins’ name has a new voice in the debate: President Obama.
Washington Redskins Fan
Washington Redskins fan wearing Indian headdress looks on in disgust during the NFL week 3 football game against the Detroit Lions on Sunday, Sept. 22, 2013,...

The controversy over changing the Washington Redskins’ name has a new voice in the debate: President Obama.

“If I were the owner of the team and I knew that there was a name of my team–even if it had a storied history–that was offending a sizable group of people, I’d think about changing it,” Obama said in an interview with the AP released Saturday.

He added that he didn’t want to detract from the passion and dedication of Redskins fans, but that he wasn’t convinced an “attachment to a particular name should override the real, legitimate concerns that people have.”

In a statement responding to the president’s comments, Redskins attorney Lanny Davis defended the team’s name: ”We at the Redskins respect everyone. But like devoted fans of the Atlanta Braves, the Cleveland Indians and the Chicago Blackhawks (from President Obama’s hometown ), we love our team and its name and, like those fans, we do not intend to disparage or disrespect a racial or ethnic group.”

But advocates fighting to change the team’s name are not backing down. Oneida Indian Nation representative Ray Halbritter told NBC News’ Kristen Welker, in an interview that aired on Meet the Press Sunday, that the name needed to go. “Any other group or ethnic group would not tolerate this kind of language being used about them that’s so denigrating and dehumanizing.”

In a press conference on Monday organized by the Oneida Indian Nation, Minnesota Congresswoman Betty McCollum, co-chair of the Congressional Native American Caucus, made a plea to team owner Dan Snyder. “Mr Snyder, change the mascot…Pick one that hurts no one.”

Snyder has previously said he would never change the team’s name.

The fight to change the team’s name does not fall solely on one side of the political aisle: in May, 10 members of Congress, nine Democrats and one Republican, sent a letter to Snyder urging him to reconsider the name. On Monday, Republican Rep. Tom Cole, a member of the Chicksaw Nation, told MSNBC’s Alex Wagner that he respected the team, but found the name offensive. “I wish they would look at changing it,” Cole said. “I don’t think it’s asking too much. In a town where people were sensitive enough to change the name of the Washington Bullets to the Washington Wizards because they thought it promoted violence, I don’t see how in the world you can have the moniker that the Washington franchise uses today.”

In September, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell encouraged Snyder and team owners to consider the backlash. “I know the team name is part of their history and tradition, and that’s something that’s important to the Redskins fans,” Goodell said. “And I think what we have to do though is we have to listen. If one person is offended, we have to listen.”