DeMaurice Smith, the executive director of the NFL Players Association, said Thursday that the team name of the Washington Redskins conveys “racial insensitivity.”
Smith, in a written statement issued to The Washington Post by the players’ union in response to a letter sent by Native American groups to all NFL players asking them to support a name change by the team, stopped short of pledging any direct action by players or the union, saying his conversations on the matter with the Redskins and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell should remain private.
“I have conveyed my thoughts on this issue both to Roger and to the team,” Smith said. “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 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 joining the Redskins in staunchly defending the team’s name. Goodell and other NFL officials, like the Redskins, 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.
Smith’s statement labeling the team’s name racially insensitive also goes a step beyond his public comments on the issue when he was interviewed briefly by a Washington Post reporter in January in New York.
“I grew up a Redskin fan and I grew up in Washington,” Smith said then. “And as we’ve said before, I think we’re in a better world if we’re not intentionally offending anyone. I think that any time we engage in a broad discussion, whether it be with fans or other interested parties about how to do our jobs better, and that might include the Redskin name, I think that’s positive.”
According to a person familiar with the situation, NFLPA officials have met with representatives of the Oneida Indian Nation to discuss their objection to the Redskins’ name.
The Oneida Indian Nation and the National Congress of American Indians sent letters Wednesday to more than 2,700 NFL players asking them to speak out against a team name that “does not honor people of color, instead it seeks to conceal a horrible segment of American history and the countless atrocities suffered by Native Americans.”
The letter also said: “Because you are in the NFL, you command a level of respect and credibility when speaking out about the league’s behavior. Indeed, players are the most publicly identifiable representatives of the league, which means your support is critical to ending this injustice.”
The letter was signed by the NAACP, the Anti-Defamation League and other groups.
Last week, 50 Democratic members of the U.S. Senate wrote letters to Goodell urging him and the league to endorse a name change. In response, Redskins President Bruce Allen wrote to Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.), the Senate majority leader, and called the team name “respectful” toward Native Americans.
Snyder also started the Washington Redskins Original Americans Foundation in March to aid Native American causes.