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May 24. 2014 7:02PM

Redskins reject letter from senators calling for name change

The Washington Redskins on Friday told 50 U.S. Senate Democrats, including New Hampshire Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, that they will not change the team name in response to the senators' letter to the National Football League asking Commissioner Roger Goodell to endorse a name change.

In a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., which the team posted on its website, team President Bruce Allen said "the Redskins team name continues to carry a deep and purposeful meaning."

Shaheen joined 49 other senators in asking Goodell to endorse a name change in the wake of the NBA's decision to ban Donald Sterling after the Los Angeles Clippers owner was recorded making racist comments to his girlfriend.

"The despicable comments made by Mr. Sterling have opened up a national conversation about race relations," the senators wrote. "We believe this conversation is an opportunity for the NFL to take action to remove the racial slur from the name of one of its marquee franchises."

Shripal Shah, Shaheen's press secretary, said the senator signed the letter because "she thought it was the right thing to do."

The letter, which did not use the word "Redskins," referenced "tribal sovereignty" as one of the major issues behind the need to change the name. The letter said tribal organizations representing more than 2 million Native Americans have been asking for a name change for years.

While numerous tribal organizations have publicly opposed the team's name, Allen noted in his letter that the team's logo featuring an Indian was designed and approved in 1971 by Native American leaders, including Walter "Blackie" Wetzel, the former president of the National Congress of American Indians. And he wrote that several Native American schools use the logo and name for their teams.

In a statement, Jennifer Horn, chairman of the New Hampshire Republican Party, questioned why Shaheen was spending time on the Redskins issue instead of focusing on more importan issues and noted that numerous New Hampshire high schools have team names with Native American roots.

"Instead of even trying to address the enormous challenges facing our country, Senator Shaheen is taking orders from her liberal party leadership in Washington and wasting her time lecturing an out-of-state NFL football team about its name.

Senator Shaheen is also reminding Granite Staters how grossly out of touch she is by implying that students and alumni who support New Hampshire high school teams with similar names are insensitive," Horn said.

Former Massachusetts U.S. Sen. Scott Brown, who moved to New Hampshire and is running in a Republican primary to challenge Shaheen, also questioned her participation in the letter.

"I think you need to be sensitive to the issues, but, once again, when you have a tremendous debt and deficit and you have Obamacare crushing jobs, I think we need to focus on these things right now," Brown said Friday at the American Legion in Manchester, according to his campaign.

The campaigns of the other Republican candidates, former U.S. Sen. Robert Smith, former state Sen. Jim Rubens and activist Karen Testerman, could not be reached Saturday for comment.

tbuckland@unionleader.com

abeland@unionleader.com


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