Redskins' Team Owner Launches Program For Natives, Flotilla Of Side-Eyes

Mar 25, 2014
Originally published on March 25, 2014 1:51 pm

On Monday, Daniel Snyder, the Washington Redskins' polarizing owner, doubled down.

Snyder sent a letter to the team's fans in which he announced that he was starting a philanthropic project to aid Native American communities. He said he'd spent months traveling through Indian country, getting to know tribal leaders and becoming more cognizant of the challenges faced by many Native communities. (You can read the whole letter here.)

The upshot: the creation of the Washington Redskins Original Americans Foundation, which will try to "tackle the troubling realities facing so many tribes across our country."

"The more I heard, the more I've learned, and the more I saw, the more resolved I became about helping to address the challenges that plague the Native American community. In speaking face-to-face with Native American leaders and community members, it's plain to see they need action, not words. ...

"I've listened. I've learned. And frankly, its heart wrenching. It's not enough to celebrate the values and heritage of Native Americans. We must do more.

"I want to do more. I believe the Washington Redskins community should commit to making a real, lasting, positive impact on Native American quality of lifeā€”one tribe and one person at a time. I know we won't be able to fix every problem. But we need to make an impact.

"And so I will take action."

In the letter, Snyder acknowledges that he'd like to pivot the conversation away from debate about his team's name, which is an old slur for Native Americans. Snyder made sure to include praise from Native officials in his letter, including from folks who said they had no problem with the Redskins' name. (" 'There are Native Americans everywhere that 100% support the name,' one tribal official said. 'I believe God has turned this around for something good.' ")

But the reaction from other quarters was swift and withering. Indian Country Today called the letter "rife with self-satisfaction and misdirection, repeatedly emphasizing all the wonderful ways the Redskins, through the Foundation, might help Indian country, with no mention of the elephant in the room: The widespread objection in Indian country to the team's name." (Indian Country Today is run by the Oneida Nation, whose CEO, Ray Halbritter, has been one of the most vocal critics of the team's name.)

"Does he think he's the only person to figure this out?" Suzan Shown Harjo, a Native activist and vocal critic of Snyder, told ThinkProgress. "Native America is impoverished? He just now figured that out? We know what the pressing issues are. We're the ones who've been dealing with them all our lives. What an insult. The whole thing. This is a stunt. To me, it's a stunt. But we'll see. Supposedly it's a change of heart, but it's not a change of mind. And it's not a change of name."

But while the criticism of Snyder and the team name has been vocal, there's not a lot of evidence that it's been terribly effective. A poll from January found that 71 percent of Americans had no problem with the name while only 18 percent said they thought it should be changed. If Snyder's doing this to win a PR war about his cash cow (estimated value: $1.7 billion, according to Forbes), it's a fight he's already winning.

(Let's play mind readers here. There's been a lot of skepticism toward his motivations in starting this foundation, and from a PR standpoint, it has only brought fresh attention to the team-name brouhaha. So does that suggest that he's sincere? Or does it suggest he's just bad at PR?)

And Snyder doesn't seem likely to budge. In an open letter last fall, he insisted that the Redskins would remain the Redskins.

Closer to home, NPR's Scott Simon notably refuses to say the name. Last week, NPR's ombudsman, Edward Schumacher-Matos, weighed in on the name controversy, suggesting that NPR "should begin to purposefully disassociate itself from using the Redskins or the Washington Redskins on air and online."

But Chuck Holmes, NPR's deputy managing editor, said, "The team's name is the name and our job is to report on the world as it is, not to take a position or become part of the story."

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