Dear Dan Snyder,
It is common knowledge that you have been facing much criticism for your steadfast refusal to change the name of your NFL franchise, the Washington Redskins. Even prior to your purchase of the franchise in 1999, there were many who criticized the idea of an American professional sports team whose name is synonymous with disrespect and racism.
You were very vocal as recently as several months ago regarding the fact that you feel no change is necessary. Initially, you were bombarded by critics who claimed you were guilty of racism. While I no longer feel that is the case, your most recent action stinks of patronage and, quite frankly, is not a good look. In America, money can change things. You’re a billionaire and thus have a lot of sway because of your considerable bank account.
On Monday, you released a statement regarding your plans to create a foundation to help Native American populations in the United States called the Original Americans Foundation. This endeavor is a clear effort by you to deflect attention from the fact that your franchise’s name is a racial slur to millions.There is absolutely no way to get around that. Similar to the ongoing dialectic regarding the N-word with an “a” or with an “er”, the term redskin, in and of itself, cannot be doctored up or changed. It is what it is.But the contextualization of the argument can be diverted, which is what you are clearly attempting to do. Below is an excerpt from your press release announcing the formation of your new endeavor.
To Everyone in our Washington Redskins Nation:
“Several months ago I wrote you about my personal reflections on our team name and on our shared Washington Redskins heritage. I wrote then – and believe even more firmly now – that our team name captures the best of who we are and who we can be, by staying true to our history and honoring the deep and enduring values our name represents. In that letter, I committed myself to listening and learning from all voices with a perspective about our Washington Redskins name. I’ve been encouraged by the thousands of fans across the country who support keeping the Redskins tradition alive. Most – by overwhelming majorities – find our name to be rooted in pride for our shared heritage and values.”
The first thing that struck me regarding the opening paragraph of your offering is the assertion that an overwhelming majority of people are cool with the franchise name. However, if the entire Native American population, down to the very last man, woman and child, were to be tallied against the wishes of this “overwhelming majority” of Americans who likely see no reason to change the names, their numbers would still fall short.
Part of being a marginalized population is being a numerical minority. So, the fact that you claim the majority is for keeping the name says absolutely nothing at all. In the statement you say you came to this conclusion to help the down-trodden Native American populations across the United States, based on a four month tour of 26 Tribal reservations across twenty states. You also mention several peace offerings that have been given to Native groups across the nation; 3,000 coats donated, athletic shoes donated to boys’ and girls’ basketball teams and a contributions for a backhoe for the Omaha Tribe of Nebraska.
However, please excuse me if I feel like you’re being disingenuous here. The late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is quoted as saying: “Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.”
The power that you wield as a member of the 1 percent to change an 81-year-old injustice is unquestionable. However, your absolute refusal to use that power to enact real societal change is telling. You don’t need to throw a bunch of money at Native American tribes or come up with some patronizing foundation. You just need to change the name. The Oneida Indian Nation of New York has been one of your biggest critics on this issue, yet you have refused multiple overtures from the tribe to meet with their leaders. Hmmm, could it be that they have made it clear that they can’t be bought?
“We are glad that after more than a decade of owning the Washington team, Mr. Snyder is finally interested in Native American heritage, and we are hopeful that when his team finally stands on the right side of history and changes its name, he will honor the commitment to Native Americans that he is making today,” said Oneida Indian Nation spokesperson Ray Halbritter via statement. ”We are also hopeful that in his new initiative to honor Native Americans’ struggle, Mr. Snyder makes sure people do not forget that he and his predecessor, George Preston Marshall, a famous segregationist, have made our people’s lives so much more difficult by using a racial slur as Washington’s team’s name.”
I am so tempted to just say “Boom, and there it is” and just let that statement marinate. But you have undoubtedly heard the position taken by the Oneida Nation echoed by other tribes. Despite your statement, there is no way in the world I’m going to believe that your dispersing of what amounts to trinkets and gifts makes the name”redskin” any less racist.
Just in case you didn’t know, racism is described by Webster’s Dictionary as “the belief that all members of each race possess characteristics or abilities specific to that race, esp. so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races.”
So, how does racism tie in to your team? Well, just look at the definition again. Where in the racial lexicon does the term “redskin” fall? It was used to distinguish the false inferiority of a group of people based upon their skin color. Not, as you so adamantly have stated, to honor Native Americans. No matter how you slice it, it’s racist. If you keep the name of your franchise the same then you are, by proxy, a racist via association. I know that’s not fair, but neither is subjecting a group of people with a history of being marginalized in this country to out-dated bigotry and unfair guilt because they can’t watch NFL football without feeling some kind of way every time they see the Washington Redskins’ name, logo or football jersey.
Please, get off your high horse, Mr. Synder. Stop manipulating meanings and trying to prove how much brighter you are than everyone else by desperately holding onto a couple of licensing coins. Sure, changing the name might be a short-term-financial headache, but think of the long-term justice you’re enforcing. Just do the right thing.