President Barack Obama says he would "think about changing" the Washington Redskins' name if he owned the football team on Friday, as he waded into the controversy involving a word many consider offensive to Native Americans.
Obama, in an interview with The Associated Press, said team names such as the Redskins offend "a sizable group of people." He said that while fans get attached to the names, nostalgia may not be a good enough reason to keep them in place.
"I don't know whether our attachment to a particular name should override the real legitimate concerns that people have about these things," he said in the interview, which was conducted Friday at the White House.
An avid sports fan who roots for his hometown Chicago Bears, Obama said he doesn't think Washington football fans are purposely trying to offend American Indians.
"I don't want to detract from the wonderful Redskins fans that are here. They love their team and rightly so," he said.
But he appeared to come down on the side of those who have sharply criticized the football team's name, noting that Indians "feel pretty strongly" about mascots and team names that depict negative stereotypes about their heritage.
The team's owner, Dan Snyder has vowed to never abandon the name.
"I think that the Redskins fans understand the great tradition and what it's all about and what it means,'' he told USA TODAY in May.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said last month that the league should pay attention to those offended by the name, a subtle change in position for Goodell, who had more strongly supported the name in his previous statements this year.
Lanny J. Davis, an attorney for the Redskins, said the team's fans don't intend to "disparage or disrespect" anyone.
"The name `Washington Redskins' is 80 years old. It's our history and legacy and tradition," Davis said in an emailed statement in which he also identified himself as an Obama supporter. "We Redskins fans sing `Hail to the Redskins' every Sunday as a word of honor, not disparagement."
The Redskins' name has attracted a fresh round of controversy in recent months, with local leaders in Washington calling for a name change and some media outlets refraining from using the name. The name is the subject of a long-running legal challenge from a group of American Indians seeking to block the team from having federal trademark protection.
Opponents of the Redskins name plan to hold a symposium Monday at the Washington hotel hosting the NFL's fall meeting.
"We really appreciate the president underscoring what we've been saying," said Ray Halbritter, leader of the Oneida Indian Nation, a tribe from upstate New York that's been campaigning against the name. "There's just no place for a professional football team to be using what the dictionary defines as a racially offensive term."
Halbritter said the NFL and Snyder could "borrow a page from the president" and use a decision to change the team's name as a "teachable moment."
Despite the controversy, an AP-GfK poll conducted in April showed that, nationally, "Redskins" still enjoys wide support. Nearly 4 in 5 Americans don't think the team should change its name, the survey found. Only 11 percent think it should be changed, while 8 percent weren't sure and 2 percent didn't answer.
Al Jazeera and wire services