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ORLANDO, Fla. -- Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder, under siege for more than a year by groups demanding a name change, said he will start a foundation designed to help Native Americans.
Snyder sent a letter to Redskins fans Monday night that detailed his plans for the Washington Redskins Original Americans Foundation, which he said resulted from four months of visiting tribal reservations across the country. Snyder said they also took a survey of tribes from 100 reservations across the country, trying to gauge their most pressing needs.
It's the latest chapter in the battle over the Redskins nickname, which was first adopted in 1933 when the team was still in Boston. Some Native American leaders escalated their fight to get them to change the team name, applying public pressure through pickets and media attention. Some groups have long fought the nickname, but the fight increased last year and spilled over into the season with protesters greeting the Redskins in most of the cities they played in last season -- with at least several hundred in both Minnesota and Denver.
"We have, I think, done a very thorough job of making sure that we understand all perspectives on this and we will continue to do that," NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said Monday at a news conference at the NFL's owners meetings.
Snyder was adamant a year ago on this topic, telling USA Today to "put it in all caps" that the Redskins would never change their name. Last fall, he sent a letter to fans softening his tone, telling them about his passion for the team and why he said the name is more something that celebrates Native American heritage.
Snyder said in their travels this fall they met with Tribal Councils and their communities to discuss their needs.
"The more I heard, the more I've learned, and the more I saw, the more resolved I became about helping to address the challenges that plague the Native American community," Snyder's recent letter stated. "In speaking face-to-face with Native American leaders and community members, it's plain to see they need action, not words."
"I'm glad that he's had a realization that Native Americans have it tough in the United States," Suzan Shown Harjo, a leader in the fight against the Redskins' name, told the Associated Press. "All sorts of people could have told him that, and have been trying to tell him that for a long time."
Snyder said they already have distributed more than 3,000 winter coats to several tribes. They've also purchased shoes for some boys and girls basketball teams and his letter said they also helped buy a new backhoe for the Omaha Tribe in Nebraska to help in their burial process.
Harjo, however, remains skeptical of what the foundation can or will do to help Native Americans.
"Will [the foundation] do much of anything? No. But it probably won't hurt," Harjo told the AP, "except that it will continue the cycle of negative imaging of Native American people in the public arena."
The letter said the foundation will be led by Gary Edwards. The letter said he's a Cherokee and retired Deputy Assistant Director of the United States Secret Service, as well as a founder and chief executive officer of the National Native American Law Enforcement Association.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.