(Reuters) - Stephen Ross, owner of the NFL's Miami Dolphins, launched a nonprofit organization on Friday aimed at combating racism by using sports to promote "understanding, respect and equality."
The Ross Initiative in Sports for Equality (RISE) has the backing of the country's major sports leagues and broadcasters.
In 2013, the locker room of Ross's Dolphins was seen as a flashpoint of intolerance when offensive lineman Jonathan Martin abruptly left the team in the middle of the season, saying he was the victim of racial slurs and bullying.
"The sports community is uniquely positioned and empowered to help drive national discussion and action to unite our country, promote understanding, respect and equality and advance race relations now and for the next generation," said Ross.
RISE and its partners will sponsor educational programs to teach coaches, players and parents about respect and diversity and how to prevent racially insensitive behavior.
Public service announcements will feature some of the biggest names in sports, including four-time National Basketball Association MVP LeBron James and Tom Brady, a four-time Super Bowl champion with the NFL's New England Patriots.
"As the sport of Jackie Robinson and other pioneers who followed in his footsteps, we must continue to build upon our progress with mutual respect and understanding through initiatives like RISE," said Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred.
National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell also backed the RISE campaign.
"We want to use our shared passion for sport to champion equality and respect for all," Goodell said.
Two leaders of the Change the Mascot campaign, whose goal is to have the NFL's Washington Redskins change their nickname, praised Ross for his efforts to combat racism. National Congress of American Indians Executive Director Jackie Pata and Oneida Nation Representative Ray Halbritter said RISE should spearhead the charge to have the Washington team change its moniker.
"It seems a natural fit for the organization to address the outlying NFL franchise in Washington which is not only dividing and isolating people with its offensive team name, but directly denigrating a segment of our nation’s population based on their alleged skin color," they said Friday in a statement.
Reporting by Steve Ginsburg in Washington; Editing by Andrew Hay