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Washington Redskins president responds to Senate condemnation

Washington Redskins President Bruce Allen responded to a letter signed by 49 senators in which they called for the franchise to changes its controversial name.
Washington Redskins Executive Vice President and General Manager Bruce Allen listens to a question during a news conference, Dec. 30, 2013, in Ashburn, Va.
Washington Redskins Executive Vice President and General Manager Bruce Allen listens to a question during a news conference, Dec. 30, 2013, in Ashburn, Va.

Washington Redskins President Bruce Allen has responded to a letter signed by dozens of senators -- 49 Democrats and not one Republican -- in which the lawmakers called on the franchise to change its controversial name.

In his letter, addressed to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid Friday, Allen called the team “a positive, unifying force for our community in a city and region that is divided on so many levels." Allen even invited Reid to a home game to witness the good vibes first hand.

The letter came just days after Reid and the other lawmakers urged the NFL to get tough on the Redskins, citing the harsh sanctions the NBA used against Donald Sterling, the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, who was secretly recorded using racially offensive remarks.

“The N.F.L. can no longer ignore this and perpetuate the use of this name as anything but what it is: a racial slur,” the senators' letter said. “We urge the N.F.L. to formally support a name change for the Washington football team.”

Allen’s letter of response cited the team’s grand history as one of the NFL’s flagship franchises, with 11 championship game appearances and five championship victories. He boasted of the team’s 81-year history and thousands of alumni and millions of fans, and a study by the Annenberg Public Policy Center that polled nearly 1,000 Native Americans of which 90% reportedly did not find the name offensive.

“The Redskins team name continues to carry a deep and purposeful meaning,” he wrote, adding that a senior linguist spent seven months researching the origins of the name and that it was originally coined by Native Americans as a term of solidarity.

The debate over the franchise's name has flared up time and again over the last few decades, but it recently hit a fever-pitch.

Team owner Daniel Snyder has remained defiant.

"We understand the issues out there, and we're not an issue," Snyder told the Associated Press. "The real issues are real-life issues, real-life needs, and I think it's time that people focus on reality."

A couple of months ago, as part of a PR campaign to beat back mounting criticism and pressure, Snyder announced that he would create the Washington Redskins Original Americans Foundation, an organization that would “provide meaningful and measurable resources that provided genuine opportunities for Tribal communities.”

"For too long, the struggles of Native Americans have been ignored, unnoticed and unresolved," Snyder wrote in a letter of his own. "As a team, we have honored them through our words and on the field, but now we will honor them through our actions. We commit to the tribes that we stand together with you, to help you build a brighter future for your communities.”

Indeed, Native Americans continue to suffer greatly all across the country, many living in isolated, rural and economically stagnant communities.

For critics, Snyders efforts do little to mask what they believe is little more than a racial slur.

Last week, the New York State Assembly passed a unanimous bipartisan resolution denouncing the use of racial slurs as professional sports team names. New York is home to NFL headquarters.