By Steve Keating
New York (Reuters) - More people, including native Americans, support the Washington Redskins keeping their controversial name, said National Football League commissioner Roger Goodell on Friday.
Goodell took on the touchy subject during his pre-Super Bowl state of the league address and attempted to defuse the issue by claiming that the vast of majority of football fans, and the American public in general, have no problem with the Redskins name that generated protests last season at stadiums across the league.
"Let me remind you this is the name of a football team, a football team that has had that name for 80 years and has presented the name in a way that has honored Native Americans," said Goodell. "We recognize that there are some who don't agree with the name and we have listened and respected them.
"But if you look at the numbers, including native American communities, nine out of 10 supported the name. Eight out of 10 in the general American population would not like us to change the name."
However, Oneida Indian Nation representative Ray Halbritter strongly disagreed with Goodell's assessment.
"It is deeply troubling that with the Super Bowl happening on lands that were once home to native Americans, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell would use the event as a platform to insist that the dictionary-defined R-word racial slur against Native Americans is somehow a sign of honor," Halbritter in a statement.
For the past 14 years, Dan Snyder, principal owner of the Washington Redskins franchise, has defied calls from activists and journalists to change his team's name and Indian logo to something less "offensive."
Even President Barack Obama has waded into the debate saying that if he owned the team, he would consider changing the name, which American Indians and others have long pilloried as racist.
Native American groups have fought the name in court and through advertising campaigns but Goodell pointed polls that seem to indicate that the outrage is not widespread.
Goodell's comments on Friday are far different from last year when the NFL commissioner told a Washington radio audience, "If one person is offended, we have to listen."
"I've been spending the last year talking many of the leaders in native American communities, we are listening," said Goodell. "We are trying to make sure we understand the issues."
The Oneida Indian Nation, which leads the national Change the Mascot campaign, insists that Goodell is not listening to them.
"Commissioner Goodell represents a $9 billion brand with global reach, yet insists that it is somehow no big deal that his league uses those vast resources to promote this slur," Oneida Indian Nation representative Halbritter said.
"In the process, he conveniently ignores all the social science research showing that the NFL's promotion of this word has serious cultural and psychological effects on native peoples."
(Reporting by Steve Keating in New York, Editing by Gene Cherry)