The National Football League's Washington Redskins have hired public relations firm Burson-Marsteller as it battles criticism that its name is a racial slur, a company spokeswoman said on Wednesday.
The company, which has long experience handling public relations crises, will run the website redskinsfacts.com. The site was launched this month and is billed as a grass-roots effort to defend the team's contentious name.
"We have been retained by the Washington Redskins and the player alumni association to provide technical and editorial support to distribute information to those who inquire about the team’s history and name, which includes the website redskinsfacts.com," said Burson-Marsteller spokeswoman Catherine Sullivan.
Native American groups have campaigned against the team name, charging that it is a racist stereotype.
A U.S. Patent and Trademark Office panel canceled six Redskins trademarks in June, saying they disparaged Native Americans. President Barack Obama has said that if he owned the team, he would consider changing the name.
Team owner Daniel Snyder has long defied calls to change the name, which dates from the 1930s.
The Redskins franchise said on Tuesday it was behind the redskinsfacts.com website. The site describes itself as "a growing online community of passionate Washington Redskins fans and others who support the team’s use of its name and logo."
The site's list of supporters include retired Redskins players Gary Clark, Chris Cooley, Mark Moseley, Ray Schoenke and Roy Jefferson.
Photos were posted this week on Twitter of the former players visiting a Chippewa-Cree tribe football camp and a rodeo school at the Rocky Boy's reservation in Montana.
Burson-Marsteller's clients have included the Blackwater USA security firm and Johnson and Johnson during the Tylenol poison scare in the 1980s.
Burson-Marsteller this week registered as online domain names TheRealRedskinsFacts.com and also DisputedRedskinsFacts.com, according to an Internet domain registration search.
The Redskins did not return calls for comment.
(Reporting by John Clarke in Annapolis, Md.; Editing by Ian Simpson and Peter Cooney)