WASHINGTON (CNN) — In his first extensive comments about the controversy over the name of Washington’s pro football team, owner Dan Snyder penned a letter to fans defending his decision not to change the Redskins name.
“Our franchise has a great history, tradition and legacy representing our proud alumni and literally tens of millions of loyal fans worldwide,” Snyder wrote. “We are proud of our team and the passion of our loyal fans. Our fans sing ‘Hail to the Redskins’ in celebration at every Redskins game. They speak proudly of ‘Redskins Nation’ in honor of a sports team they love.”
Critics have been pressuring the Redskins organization to consider a name change, arguing that the term is an offensive racial slur that causes serious social and mental stress to Native American communities.
But Snyder — born and raised a Redskins fan — has remained resolute in his opposition to a new name.
“When I consider the Washington Redskins name, I think of what it stands for. I think of the Washington Redskins traditions and pride I want to share with my three children, just as my father shared with me — and just as you have shared with your family and friends,” Snyder said.
Snyder has until now been reluctant to even address the issue; his most extensive comments came last spring when he emphatically told USA Today last spring that he will “never” change the name.
But recent attention has made it more difficult to ignore the issue.
A group led by the Oneida Indian Nation launched its “Change the Mascot” media campaign last month. And President Obama weighed in last week, telling the Associate Press that he would “consider changing the name,” if he were the owner of team whose name offended a group of people.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has also expressed a need for dialogue.
At the NFL’s annual fall meeting Tuesday, Goodell reiterated that as a Redskins fan, he does not consider the name derogatory, but “whenever you have a situation like this, you have to listen and recognize that some other people might have different perspectives.”
“We all want to do things to honor people and not to do anything in a negative way,” Goodell said.
Snyder says he is listening, but the name is not going away.
“I respect the feelings of those who are offended by the team name. But I hope such individuals also try to respect what the name means, not only for all of us in the extended Washington Redskins family, but among Native Americans too,” Snyder said, citing several polls conducted in recent years that show that a majority of people do not want the name changed.
“After 81 years, the team name ‘Redskins’ continues to hold the memories and meaning of where we came from, who we are, and who we want to be in the years to come,” Snyder said.
But Oneida Nation representative Ray Halbritter told CNN Monday that poll numbers don’t matter as long as anyone is offended by the name.
“It’s a dictionary defined offensive racial epithet. You shouldn’t be using that to sell a national sports team to America or to the rest of the world,” Halbritter said.
The NFL confirmed on Monday that it would send representatives to meet with Oneida leaders at a later date. It is unclear whether Snyder will be part of those meetings, but Halbritter said he hopes Snyder will come because “it is clear from Mr. Snyder’s letter that he does not understand (the) consequences” of using Redskins as a team name.
“In the spirit of the dialogue that Mr. Snyder says he is willing to engage in, we are inviting him to join the NFL delegation in its upcoming meeting at our homelands,” Halbritter said Wednesday. “During his visit, we will organize a special meeting of Oneida Nation families where Mr. Snyder can personally explain to them why he believes they deserve to be called ‘redskins.'”