WASHINGTON -- Minnesota Senators Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken signed on to a letter to National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell Wednesday urging him to send the message that racism has no place in the NFL by endorsing a name change for the Washington Redskins.
The letter, signed by 49 senators, says that recent action taken by the NBA against Clippers owner Donald Sterling for his racist remarks "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 wrote.
The effort is being led by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a frequent critic of the Redskins' name who has taken to Twitter and the Senate floor to voice his opposition since NBA Commissioner Adam Silver instituted a lifetime ban on Sterling last month.
In their letter, Franken, Klobuchar and the other senators note that professional sports have tremendous power to influence society and strengthen communities.
"From Jesse Owens to Jackie Robinson to Billie Jean King, athletes have often been a driving force for equality and diversity in our nation," the letter says. "Now is the time for the NFL to act. 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?"
The NFL said in a statement to ESPN on Thursday that the league has not yet received the letter.
"The NFL has long demonstrated a commitment to progressive leadership on issues of diversity and inclusion, both on and off the field," NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said. "The intent of the team's name has always been to present a strong, positive and respectful image. The team name is not used by the team or the NFL in any other context, though we respect those that view it differently."
Redskins owner Dan Snyder has refused to change the team name, saying he wants to preserve the Redskins' rich tradition. He wrote in an open letter in the Washington Post last fall that many Native Americans are not offended by the name.
"I respect the opinions of those who disagree," he said. "I want them to know that I do hear them, and I will continue to listen and learn. But we cannot ignore our 81-year history, or the strong feelings of most of our fans as well as Native Americans throughout the country."
The senators said they have heard from Native American Groups who oppose the name, including the National Congress of American Indians, United South and Eastern Tribes and the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians. They said the groups represent more than two million Native Americans from 300 tribes across the country.
They contended that "every Sunday during football season, the Washington, D.C., football team mocks their culture."
"The NFL can no longer ignore this and perpetuate the use of this name as anything but what it is: a racial slur," they wrote.
The renewed push against the team name comes during something of a bad news week for the NFL. A group of former players filed a lawsuit Tuesday accusing the league of supplying players with drugs to numb their pain during games.