Daniel Snyder and NFL Embarrassed as Washington Name Change Support Grows

Stephen Sonneveld@@S_SonneveldCorrespondent IIIJuly 8, 2013

Composite by author.
Composite by author.

On June 21, celebrity chef Paula Deen, a Caucasian, was fired by her television network and subsequently lost a bevy of endorsement and publishing deals in the wake of admitting under oath to having used used the “N-word” during her life.

Yet, in that same week, former football star Joe Theismann, a Caucasian of Austro-Hungarian descent, revealed for the first time to a South Dakota newspaper that his 12-year career playing for the Washington “R-words” was, in fact, to “honor Native people,” and that when he put on his uniform, he was representing more than just the team, he “was representing the great Native American nations that exist in this country.”

Theismann's official biography lists many accomplishments, but makes no mention of his wanting to honor Native Americans.

Theismann would have had the same distinguished career no matter what the team name had been. Fans would possess the same love for this franchise, no matter what the name had been.

The issue at stake is that the longer team owner Daniel Snyder and the NFL refuse to step into this century and change the name from a racial slur into anything else, the more all those sportive accomplishments and cherished memories will forever be overshadowed and intertwined with racial controversy, just as Deen's story is now tainted.

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The longer Snyder and the NFL refuse to concede, the less options they're going to have left for themselves.

On the municipal level, Washington D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray expressed to reporters in January that if the franchise were ever to return to the city, at least discussions of a name change would need to take place.

By spring, D.C. Councilman David Grosso introduced a resolution calling for a change to the “racist and derogatory” name.

On the federal level, Congressman Eni F.H. Faleomavaega of American Samoa introduced a bill in March, cosponsored by 19 Members of Congress, that “seeks to cancel the federal registrations of trademarks using the word “redskin” (hereinafter “R-word”) in reference to Native Americans.”

In May, Faleomavaega and nine other Members of Congress, including the co-chairs of the Congressional Native American Caucus (Tom Cole (OK) and Betty McCollum (MN), Raúl M. Grijalva (AZ), Gwen Moore (WI), Michael M. Honda (CA), Donna M. Christensen (VI), Zoe Lofgren (CA), Barbara Lee (CA), and Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC)), sent a letter to NFL officials urging them to change the name on the basis that is it is not only hateful language, but for the Penobscot nation, also a “reminder of one of the most gruesome acts of . . . ethnic cleansing ever committed against” them.

In terms of public support, Funny or Die contributors have satirized Snyder and the league, a Kickstarter campaign was started last year that sought to establish a new franchise name, and there is currently a petition on the White House website that calls for the Obama Administration to support a measure that would seize any and all funds earned from official and bootleg merchandise containing disparaging trademarks. (Note: Editorial policy prohibits linking to that page.)

All of these goings on are in addition to the ongoing legal battle Native Americans have been waging against Football, Inc. to have the Washington team's trademark barred.

Converse to this sea-change, Snyder was quoted by USA Today:

“We'll never change the name,” he said. “It's that simple. NEVER — you can use caps.”

Despite Native American voices speaking out against the team name, Snyder has stonewalled any talk of changing the name for years, yet was not above using his influence and resources to ban fan signage that disparaged him, or from suing the Washington City Paper and journalist Dave McKenna for publishing a litany of Snyder's suspicious business dealings and price gouging.

What's worse, Synder's record of race relations is proving to be as unreliable as team founder George Preston Marshall's, which was detailed in a previous article.

Snyder's Six Flags Theme Parks operation caught the ire of the Japanese American Citizens League for employing the “outdated, debilitating stereotype only perpetuates the idea that Asians can’t speak English properly,” during a 2008 commercial in which “casting directors were specifically looking for an Asian man who could emulate Charlie Chan or who could 'talk like [his] grandfather.'"

In more recent months, Snyder and the NFL desperately trotted out Stephen Dodson, a Washington-area tow truck company employee claiming to be an Alaskan tribal chief, to proclaim how much Native Americans use and love the “R-word.”

Dodson's dubious claims were debunked, but not before NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell included the fake chief's remarks in the NFL's official response to Congress.

Goodell's response also included poll numbers showing the name is popular and echoed his comments from the Super Bowl press conference three months earlier that the team name represents respect and pride.

Like Snyder, however, the NFL was not above exerting its influence when Football, Inc. was suffering from perceived disrespect, in the form of ESPN's highly rated and acclaimed drama “Playmakers,” which focused on the lives involved in a fictional professional football team, including a manipulative owner and players who abused drugs.

According to the New York Times, then-NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue condemned the show, alleging it was “one-dimensional and traded in racial stereotypes, and I didn't think that was either appropriate for ESPN or right for our players.”

That the same organization which was earning millions of dollars off a team named “redskins” justified the removal of a fictional show from the airwaves because it “traded in racial stereotypes,” only illuminated the fact that the NFL was incapable of living up to its own standards.

A decade later, the racist name remains, proving that things haven't changed for the NFL and even its business partners.

Wal-Mart and Target were two of the retailers who terminated their partnerships with Paula Deen Enterprises as a result of the “N-word” scandal. Yet, a search for “NFL redskins” on Wal-Mart's website yielded five pages' worth of results, while the same search on the Target website produced 51 items for sale branded with the racist moniker.

By distancing themselves from a tangential association with one racial slur, both retailers have only magnified their continued and direct association with another.

Unless Wal-Mart and Target practice double-standards when it comes to racial tolerance, then they have a moral obligation to stop carrying items emblazoned with a trademark that Indian activists have stated time and again is a racist slur and “insults the principle of justice.”

Victoria's Secret and the rock band No Doubt have pledged to no longer defame Native Americans in their works, and these retailers should do the same, especially in light of their recent business decisions.

Daniel Snyder, Roger Goodell and the NFL owners, meanwhile, embarrassingly demonstrate that they can neither be shamed nor reasoned with when it comes to the fact “redskins” is a racist term that needs to be removed. They held steadfast to their intransigent views, and now the tipping point has passed. They have left it to courts and congresses to determine the financial future of the Washington team.

For men who claimed holding on to the outdated name was a matter of pride, pride may be all they are left with.