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NFL commissioner Roger Goodell defended the Washington Redskins' nickname in a letter to 10 members of Congress who had earlier urged team owner Daniel Snyder and the NFL to change the name because it is offensive to many Native Americans.
The members of Congress had sent their letters to Snyder, Goodell and the other 31 NFL franchises on May 13. Goodell's response was sent June 5, a digital copy of which was posted by the Indian Country Today Media Network.
"The Washington Redskins name has thus from its origin represented a positive meaning distinct from any disparagement that could be viewed in some other context," Goodell writes in the letter. "For the team's millions of fans and customers, who represent one of America's most ethnically and geographically diverse fan bases, the name is a unifying force that stands for strength, courage, pride and respect."
Among the group from Congress that sent the letters are the leaders of the Congressional Native American Caucus, Tom Cole (R-Okla.) and Betty McCollum (D-Minn.).
McCollum and Eni Faleomavaega (D-American Samoa) responded to Goodell's letter with statements of their own, according to the Indian Country Today Media Network.
McCollum said Goodell's letter was "another attempt to justify a racial slur on behalf of Dan Snyder and other NFL owners who appear to be only concerned with earning ever larger profits, even if it means exploiting a racist stereotype of Native Americans."
Faleomavaega, meanwhile, said that Goodell "completely missed the point regarding the Washington franchise's name."
The letter to Snyder said that "Native Americans throughout the country consider the 'R-word' a racial, derogatory slur akin to the 'N-word' among African Americans or the 'W-word' among Latinos."
The nickname is the subject of a long-running legal challenge from a group seeking to have the team lose its trademark protection.
Snyder has vowed that he will never change the name.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.