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Senate Democrats are putting pressure on the National Football League to force the Washington Redskins to change its team name, which they said reflects "racism and bigotry."
A group of 50 members from the Senate Democratic caucus signed on to a letter Thursday urging NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to follow the lead of the National Basketball Association, which banned Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling from the league for his racist comments about African-Americans attending basketball games.
"Today, we urge you and the National Football League to send the same clear message as the NBA did: that racism and bigotry have no place in professional sports," wrote the senators. "It's time for the NFL to endorse a name change for the Washington, D.C. football team."
"The despicable comments made by Mr. Sterling have opened up a national conversation about race relations. 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," they said.
The letter was penned by Sen. Maria Cantwell, Washington Democrat, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat. Nearly every Senate Democrat signed on, as did independent Sens. Bernard Sanders of Vermont and Angus King Jr. of Maine, who caucus with the Democrats.
Conspicuously absent among the signees were Democratic Sens. Timothy Kaine and Mark Warner, both of Virginia, which is home to much of the Redskins's fan base.
The name of the Washington football team has long infuriated liberal groups and civil rights organizations that consider "Redskins" a slur against Native Americans, including the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the National Council of La Raza and the American Civil Liberties Union.
Tribal organizations representing more than 2 million Native Americans and more than 300 tribes have called on the NFL for a name change. They include the Oneida Indian Nation, which launched a national "Change the Mascot" campaign to end the use of a racial slur in the team's name.
"Now is the time for the NFL to act," wrote the senators. "The Washington, D.C. football team is on the wrong side of history. What message does it send to punish slurs against African Americans while endorsing slurs against Native Americans?"
Redskins fans counter that the name has a proud tradition in the league and celebrates Native Americans.
An overwhelming majority of Americans - 71 percent - don't think the Redskins should change the name, found a national survey early this year by Public Policy Polling. About 18 percent in the poll favored a name change and 11 percent were not sure about it.