The NFL Players Association executive director, DeMaurice Smith, said the term “Redskins” is racially insensitive, drawing speculation that the union might take a stand on the controversial issue.
Native American groups sent a letter to all teams asking players to support a name change. Smith stopped short of pledging any direct action by players or the union, preferring not to disclose the specifics of his conversations with the Redskins and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.
“I have conveyed my thoughts on this issue both to Roger and to the team,” Smith said in the statement. “They understand our position and I believe that those conversations are most effective when they can remain private. As I have stated publicly, though, I do not believe anyone should inflict pain, embarrass or insult, especially given the racial insensitivity of the term ‘Redskin.’
“As you know, I grew up here and like all Washingtonians I became a fan of this team,” the statement continued. “The beauty of sports and of the Washington football franchise is that it will always have the ability to bring this community together, regardless of what decision is made about the team name.”
Even without a vow to take action on the issue, Smith’s statement marks a departure from others among the sport’s leadership, who have joined the Redskins in staunchly defending the team’s name. Goodell and other NFL officials have said they do not consider the name disparaging to Native Americans, often citing polling which, they say, shows no widespread public support for a name change.
League and team officials have said they are sensitive to opposing views, but have given no indication they believe a name change is needed. Redskins owner Daniel Snyder has said he never will change the name.
The team, meanwhile, charged a Twitter explosion directed at Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.), who helped lead the campaign in which 50 Democratic U.S. Senators signed letters to the NFL urging progress toward a name change.
“Tweet @SenatorReid to show your #RedskinsPride and tell him what the team means to you,” the Redskins account requested.
The team also emailed team president Bruce Allen’s response to fans, urging them to contact Reid’s office on Twitter, Facebook or via e-mail. Thousands of fans quickly filed comments on Facebook and on Twitter, supporting the name and criticizing Reid’s involvement.