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Washington Redskins fumble on Twitter

By Ray Sanchez, CNN
updated 6:13 PM EDT, Fri May 30, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Team's Twitter appeal to fans appears to backfire, say proponents of name change
  • One person tweets: "This team has ZERO self-awareness"
  • Another tweets: "Lifelong 'Skins fan and I strongly believe it is time to change the name"
  • Team President Bruce Allen: Name began as Native American expression of solidarity

(CNN) -- The Washington Redskins, stinging from a letter by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and dozens of fellow Democrats calling on the league to force the team to change its racist name, apparently fumbled a desperate Twitter appeal to fans.

"Tweet @SenatorReid to show your #RedskinsPride and tell him what the team means to you," the maligned team wrote to its 305,000 Twitter followers on Thursday.

But be careful what you ask for, especially on Twitter.

"This team has ZERO self-awareness.lol," one person tweeted.

"Lifelong 'Skins fan and I strongly believe it is time to change the name," wrote another.

"How do you not see what a bad idea this is," said another tweet.

"Please don't do this to yourself. DON'T," another person wrote.

Faiz Shakir, Reid's digital director, said the majority of responses favored a name change.

"In the five to 10 minutes following it, we were pleasantly surprised by the overwhelming outpouring of opposition to the team," he said. "It was 50 to one at one point."

Redskins spokesman Tony Wyllie said the claim reminded him of the famously incorrect "Dewey defeats Truman" banner headline.

"They declared victory within the hour and as the night went on, more and more momentum swung our way," he said. "That's the good thing about our country. People can express themselves and have a healthy dialogue."

In a letter to the NFL last week, the senators stepped up pressure on the league to force the Washington Redskins to change their name by invoking the heated racial controversy triggered by basketball's Donald Sterling.

"I would hope that the team does reflect on why there was so much organic opposition to the name," Shakir said Friday. "I don't know if they're living in bunker mentality over there and don't realize that this name has caused so much anger. But if they are in that bunker mentality, hopefully (Thursday's Twitter response) causes them to climb out of that and see the fact that there is a lot of deep-seeded opposition and anger to the name."

Responding to the senators' letter, Redskins President Bruce Allen invited Reid to a game to "witness first-hand that the Washington Redskins are a positive, unifying force for our community in a city and region that is divided on so many levels." Allen said the term Redskins originated as a Native American expression of solidarity, and that the team logo was designed by Native Americans.

Joel Barkin, a spokesman for Oneida Indian Nation of central New York, said the team's Twitter appeal demonstrated how much the Redskins underestimate the passions surrounding the issue.

"This is a complete disregard for those that are calling for a change," he said. "It's a fundamental misreading of the issue at large."

Last week's letter, signed by 50 Democratic senators and released by Reid, urged pro football's commissioner, Roger Goodell, to take action over concerns that continued use of the Redskins brand is offensive to Native Americans.

They asked Goodell to follow the lead of NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, who took tough measures against Sterling after the longtime owner of the league's Los Angeles Clippers was recorded making comments offensive to African-Americans.

"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," the letter said.

Responding to the Senate letter, the NFL said last week it has "long demonstrated a commitment to progressive leadership" on diversity.

"The intent of the team's name has always been to present a strong, positive and respectful image. The name is not used by the team or the NFL in any other context, though we respect those that view it differently," the league statement said.

Lawmakers step into Washington Redskins name fray

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