Daniel Snyder Defends Controversial Redskins Nickname in Interview with ESPN

Matt FitzgeraldCorrespondent IIIAugust 5, 2014

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Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder has been a fervent supporter of retaining the organization's nickname amid heavy pressure to change it. In an interview that will air in its entirety on Sept. 2 at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN2, Snyder went into more detail about why he'd like to preserve the Redskins as the team's mascot.

ESPN.com recorded several key quotes from Snyder's Outside the Lines interview with John Barr, where he defended the controversial nickname:

It's just historical truths, and I'd like them to understand, as I think most do, that the name really means honor, respect. We sing 'Hail to the Redskins.' We don't say hurt anybody. We say 'Hail to the Redskins. Braves on the warpath. Fight for old D.C.' We only sing it when we score touchdowns. That's the problem because last season we didn't sing it quite enough as we would've liked to.

Snyder was also asked about how other owners view the name (via Dan Steinberg of The Washington Post):

The network released part of the interview Tuesday afternoon, and a longer segment on “NFL Live” later Tuesday. In the latter segment, ESPN’s John Barr asked Snyder if he’s “had conversations with other owners or the commissioner about this particular issue in recent months, and if so, what have those conversations included?”

“Sure,” Snyder said. “They’ve been very very supportive. It’s been great.”

“So you’ve not heard one dissenting voice from within the NFL community?” Barr asked.

“It’s been great support,” Snyder said. “I think that whether it’s the owners or people at the league, most people understand what the team name means. They look at is as we all do: As honor, respect.”

The term "redskin" has been defined through various etymologies, and many opponents of the NFL mascot interpret the word as offensive and disparaging toward Native Americans.

Snyder shared his definition and perspective of the word in his ESPN interview:

A Redskin is a football player. A Redskin is our fans. The Washington Redskins fan base represents honor, represents respect, represents pride. Hopefully winning. And, and, it, it's a positive. Taken out of context, you can take things out of context all over the place. But in this particular case, it is what it is. It's very obvious.

Baxter Holmes of The Boston Globe disagrees and led his Esquire piece from June with a much different perspective:

The story in my family goes that the term dates back to the institutionalized genocide of Native Americans, most notably when the Massachusetts colonial government placed a bounty on their heads. The grisly particulars of that genocide are listed in a 1755 document called the Phips Proclamation, which zeroed in on the Penobscot Indians, a tribe today based in Maine.

Spencer Phips, a British politician and then Lieutenant Governor of the Massachusetts Bay Province, issued the call, ordering on behalf of British King George II for, 'His Majesty’s subjects to Embrace all opportunities of pursuing, captivating, killing and Destroying all and every of the aforesaid Indians.' They paid well – 50 pounds for adult male scalps; 25 for adult female scalps; and 20 for scalps of boys and girls under age 12.

These bloody scalps were known as 'redskins.'

The mascot of the Washington Redskins, if the team desired accuracy, would be a gory, bloodied crown from the head of a butchered Native American.

This entire hot-button issue that meshes both politics and sports is undoubtedly sensitive to those who don't support the mascot.   

The key is context, which is something Snyder references. While there may not be malicious intent in Washington's pro football nickname—a long-standing name that has existed since 1933—there is nevertheless significant public scorn.

Snyder, who visited Indian Country in recent months, claims that plenty of Native Americans support the franchise and the name as it stands, per USA Today's Erik Brady:

They love this team. They actually have a tremendous amount of fans on reservations, not only for our team but for many teams that have Native American imagery: the Atlanta Braves, the Kansas City Chiefs, the (Chicago) Blackhawks. They really, really are proud of these teams, and I learned more of the truth.

Debate will continue to rage on until definitive action is taken. That it has gotten to the point of federal litigation shows the magnitude of the situation. When the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office canceled the Redskins' trademark in June, NFL Network's Ian Rapoport made a pertinent point about the impending appeal:

It will be worth seeing the reaction to Snyder's latest defense and whether it has any impact on those who oppose the Redskins name.

The team itself is dealing with adversity after a 3-13 season that didn't even result in a top draft pick due to the 2012 trade for quarterback Robert Griffin III. Dealing with the mascot issue on top of a coaching change under newcomer Jay Gruden will make for a persistent distraction.

Unfortunately, none of the players can do anything about it but play and produce positive results on the field. Snyder is the face of the organization in the media, so taking such a hard-line stance on one end of the debate is bound to draw a proportionately extreme reaction as long as he holds firm to it.