The executive director of the NFL Players Association said Thursday that the Washington Redskins name conveys “racial insensitivity,” while the team launched a social-media effort aimed at rallying support behind the franchise.
NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith offered his thoughts in a statement to The Post, issued in response to a letter sent by Native American groups to all NFL players earlier this week. That letter had asked the players to support a name change by the team.
Smith 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 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, ignited a social-media frenzy Thursday afternoon with a short tweet from its official account. The tweet was 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 e-mailed 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.
At the same time, opponents co-opted the “RedskinsPride” hashtag and registered their own onslaught of tweets, mocking the team’s on-field performance and its response to the name issue.
A Redskins spokesman declined to comment on the social media reaction. Reid’s office, meanwhile, was thrilled with the results.
“What we saw [on Twitter] was a collective, overwhelming outpouring that was heavily critical of the team,” said Faiz Shakir, Reid’s digital director. “I hope that causes the organization to reflect on why that occurred.”
The “RedskinsPride” hashtag became one of the top Twitter trends both nationally and in the Washington region, and Web sites from BuzzFeed and USA Today to Sports Illustrated and Deadspin wrote about Thursday’s social-media strife, mostly focusing on the backlash.
Smith’s statement labeling the team’s name racially insensitive went a step beyond his public comments on the issue when he was interviewed briefly by a Washington Post reporter in January.
“We’re in a better world if we’re not intentionally offending anyone,” Smith said then. “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.