WASHINGTON (AP) - Groups who oppose the Washington Redskins name say they are taking their case directly to the players.
A letter signed by dozens of Native American, civil rights and religious organizations will be sent to every NFL player on Wednesday asking each to add his "powerful voice to the hundreds who are already speaking out."
The letter is spearheaded by the Oneida Indian Nation and the National Congress of American Indians, two groups who have been at the forefront of the campaign to change the team's name.
The letter is being mailed to teams, and it is also being sent to players via Twitter. It notes that the Seattle Seahawks' Richard Sherman recently expressed concerns about the Redskins name.
Team owner Dan Snyder has vowed to never change the name.
Redskins President Bruce Allen says in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid that the NFL team's nickname is "respectful" toward Native Americans.
Last week, half the U.S. Senate urged NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to change the Washington club's name, saying it is a racist slur and it is time to replace it.
In one letter, 49 senators cited the NBA's quick action recently to ban Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling for life after he was heard on an audio recording making offensive comments about blacks.
They said Goodell should formally push to rename the Redskins.
"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," read the letter, which did not use the word "Redskins."
Sen. Bill Nelson, a Florida Democrat, wrote his own letter saying he doesn't believe that retaining the Redskin name "is appropriate in this day and age." He described himself as "one of your great fans for both the game and you personally."
Democrats not signing the letter were Tim Kaine and Mark Warner of nearby Virginia, where the team's headquarters are; Mark Pryor of Arkansas, in a tight re-election race this year; and Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Joe Donnelly of Indiana, two of their party's more moderate lawmakers.
The franchise responded by releasing Allen's letter Saturday.
He says that "our use of 'Redskins' as the name of our football team for more than 80 years has always been respectful of and shown reverence toward the proud legacy and traditions of Native Americans."
The franchise has been known as the Redskins since 1933, when it played in Boston.
The senators noted that tribal organizations representing more than 2 million Native Americans across the U.S. have said they want the Redskins name dropped.
Despite federal laws protecting their identity, "Every Sunday during football season, the Washington, D.C., football team mocks their culture," they wrote.
"The NFL can no longer ignore this and perpetuate the use of this name as anything but what it is: a racial slur," the letter said.
The senators' letters come at a time of growing pressure to change the name, with statements in recent months from President Barack Obama, lawmakers of both parties and civil rights groups.