By Steve Busfeld, The Guardian
Dan Snyder tells Washington fans: ‘the team name “Redskins” continues to hold the memories and meaning of where we came from, who we are, and who we want to be in the years to come’
With the Redskins name under sustained attack, Washington’s NFL owner has responded with an emotional letter to the team’s supporters.
Following President Obama’s decision to join the debate, suggesting that Washington’s owner should at least contemplate changing the team’s name from one which is considered offensive by many native Americans, Dan Snyder has defended the name again, but in a more responsive tone than previous declarations.
“I respect the opinions of those who disagree. I want them to know that I do hear them, and I will continue to listen and learn. But we cannot ignore our 81 year history, or the strong feelings most of our fans as well as Native Americans throughout the country,” his letter said.
Previously Snyder had declared: “We’ll never change the name. It’s that simple. NEVER – you can use caps.”
Now the franchise’s owner has made a plea for tradition.
“I still remember my first Redskins game…I was only six…
That tradition – the song [Hail to the Redskins], the cheer – it mattered so much to me as a child, and I know it matters to every other Redskins fan in the D.C. area and across the nation.
Our past isn’t just where we came from – it’s who we are…
Our team began 81 years ago – in 1932 – with the name “Boston Braves.” The following year, the franchise name was changed to the “Boston Redskins.” On that inaugural Redskins team, four players and our Head Coach were Native Americans. The name was never a label. It was, and continues to be, a badge of honor.
In 1971, our legendary coach, the late George Allen, consulted with the Red Cloud Athletic Fund located on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota and designed our emblem on the Redskins helmets. Several years later, Coach Allen was honored by the Red Cloud Athletic Fund. On the wall at our Ashburn, Virginia, offices is the plaque given to Coach Allen – a source of pride for all of us. “Washington Redskins is more than a name we have called our football team for over eight decades. It is a symbol of everything we stand for: strength, courage, pride, and respect — the same values we know guide Native Americans and which are embedded throughout their rich history as the original Americans.
I’ve listened carefully to the commentary and perspectives on all sides, and I respect the feelings of those who are offended by the team name. But I hope such individuals also try to respect what the name means, not only for all of us in the extended Washington Redskins family, but among Native Americans too.
….So when I consider the Washington Redskins name, I think of what it stands for. I think of the Washington Redskins traditions and pride I want to share with my three children, just as my father shared with me — and just as you have shared with your family and friends.
…After 81 years, the team name “Redskins” continues to hold the memories and meaning of where we came from, who we are, and who we want to be in the years to come.
The President said at the weekend: “If I were the owner of the team and I knew that the name of my team, even if they’ve had a storied history, was offending a sizeable group of people, I’d think about changing it.”
Last month NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said: “If one person’s offended, we have to listen. And ultimately, it is Dan [Snyder]‘s decision. But it is something that I want all of us to go out and make sure we’re listening to our fans, listening to people who have a different view, and making sure that we continue to do what’s right.”
A number of media organisations have stopped using the “Redskins” name, in recognition of opposition to its use among Native American groups which has been expressed at demonstrations at NFL games.
Update: The Oneida Nation, which has protested the team’s name, released its own statement in response to Snyder’s letter:
“We are glad to see that Mr. Snyder is listening to the growing number of critics on this issue that include the President of the United States, senior members of the U.S. Congress, civil rights organizations, public health organizations, and Native American tribes. These leaders and groups, who collectively represent millions of people, understand why a professional football team should not be promoting a racial slur.
In his letter, Mr. Snyder made mention of his team’s history. He opted to omit from his letter, however, that the original owner who gave the team its current name was an avowed segregationist. That suggests the team’s name was deliberately designed to denigrate people of color. Unfortunately that ploy was successful. The marketing of this racial slur has had – and continues to have – very serious cultural, political, and public health consequences for my people and Native Americans everywhere.”
It is clear from Mr. Snyder’s letter that he does not understand those consequences. So in the spirit of the dialogue that Mr. Snyder says he is willing to engage in, we are inviting him to join the NFL delegation in its upcoming meeting at our Homelands. During his visit, we will organize a special meeting of Oneida Nation families where Mr. Snyder can personally explain to them why he believes they deserve to be called “redskins.” He can then hear directly from them why that term is so painful.”
[Image via Lee Diehr, Creative Commons licensed]