"Far more common in American thought was the concept of the “treacherous redskin,” which lifted [Andrew] Jackson and William Henry Harrison to the presidency in 1828 and 1840, respectively, partly on the strength of their military victories over Indians."
-Encyclopedia Britannica, "United States: Westward Expansion”
Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder can pen all the open letters he wants, imploring critics to “respect what the name means." But there, in black and white, is scholarly, empirical proof that as far back as 1828, the team name has been a negative term intended to stoke racial hatred toward Native Americans—a point only bolstered by the fact that Andrew Jackson was a notorious Indian killer, on an "ethnic-cleansing" scale.
Like “Old Hickory,” Snyder has firmly entrenched himself on the wrong side of history, and the NFL has broken ranks in recent weeks, distancing themselves from the embittered owner.
When I started writing this series of articles about the Washington team name change in July of 2012, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell would not even comment on the issue. As late as the following June, Goodell defended the name in a letter to Congress, in the wake of municipal and federal officials actively clamoring for the slur to be retired.
District of Columbia Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton told ESPN’s Outside the Lines, “The League’s letter was an apologia, and one that they should be ashamed of, because in essence, it said he doesn’t mean [the team name] to be derogatory. Let me tell you something, the perpetrator doesn’t get to say if the term is derogatory. Who gets to say that is the recipient.”
By September, however, Goodell conceded to a Washington radio station, "If we are offending one person, we need to be listening and making sure that we're doing the right things to try to address that," before passing the buck to Snyder as the person who will ultimately determine the name change.
Less than a month after that, and in the aftermath of President Barack Obama telling the Associated Press, “If I were the owner of the team… even if it had a storied history, [and the name] was offending a sizeable group of people, I’d think about changing it,” NFL team owners arrived in D.C. concurrently with members of the Oneida Indian Nation, who were hosting a symposium on the issue as part of their Change the Mascot campaign.
It was then that NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy announced a Nov. 22 meeting has been scheduled between the Oneida and the NFL (sooner, if need be, according to The Washington Post), saying, ''We respect that people have differing views. It is important that we listen to all perspectives.''
The Associated Press reported that although the name change topic “was not part of the formal agenda” for the NFL fall meetings, “it was the subject of four of the first five questions posed at” Goodell in the concluding press conference.
Goodell reiterated his September comments and added, "I am confident that the Redskins are listening and I'm confident that they're sensitive to their fans -- to the views of people that are not only their fans but are not their fans."
Only days later, however, Snyder, under damage control advisement from attorney Lanny Davis, issued the open letter that merely reasserted his intransigent views; an obsessive Gollum desperately clinging to his “precious” against all warning signs.
The debacle has even made Snyder’s supporters look ridiculous. USA Today reported that prior to Sunday’s game (Oct. 13), Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones made an uninformed remark—and what has been criticized as a stereotypical statement—during a fan question and answer session, when he said, "It would be a real mistake -- a real mistake -- to think Dan, who is Jewish, has a lack of sensitivity regarding anybody's feelings.”
Goodell, who was also in attendance, added he was “confident” Snyder “wants to do the right thing.”
The real truth of Dan Snyder’s convictions were laid bare in the 2011 autobiography of Jack Abramoff, "Capital Punishment: The Hard Truth About Washington Corruption From America’s Most Notorious Lobbyist.” The former Washington insider and current convict recounts on page 164 a memo he wrote in hopes of appealing to Snyder’s empathy, asking the owner how he would feel if articles of Jewish religious identity were bastardized for mascots and halftime celebrations. As detailed in a previous article, Synder was unmoved by the comparison.
In my first article on this topic, I criticized the NFL owners and players for their cowardice in abiding this racist term, and they continue to disappoint by ignoring the elephant in the room.
FOX Sports quoted Washington quarterback Robert Griffin III, who claimed the name change issue was “way above my understanding.” Furthermore, coming out of the fall meetings, Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay and Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones both had no comment for the A.P., while Snyder refused to field any questions whatsoever.
Yet, the NFL has demonstrated that it is willing to make changes when offended people make their voices heard. At the end of September, Cincinnati Bengals fans demanded that the franchise stop playing Katy Perry’s pop hit “Roar” when the team takes the field. According to FOX Sports, “Original reports didn't have any numerical estimation on how many complaints the Bengals received, but clearly it was enough to rattle the team into action.”
It is beyond embarrassing that the NFL and team owners are willing to take quick and decisive action on such an inconsequential matter, yet, as Washington Post columnist Mike Wise pointed out, “has spent tens of thousands of dollars defending the team from American Indian plantiffs… for the better part of two decades.”
This league of hypocrites that found Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction “offensive, inappropriate and embarrassing,” that allegedly strong-armed ESPN into cancelling a drama about a fictional football team because it was “one-dimensional and traded in racial stereotypes,” whose same team owners have no problem commenting for reporters how “shocked and appalled” they are when a player uses the N-word, stand silent for over 80 years when Indians repeatedly tell them, “[We] are people, not mascots.”
The non-profit civil rights organization, the Southern Poverty Law Center bankrupted numerous hate groups in civil court. Perhaps such a lawsuit will be the ultimate course of action for Indian nations fighting this overt and unapologetic discrimination; to go beyond not only rescinding a mark the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board has already ruled is disparaging, but to bankrupt the unrepentant League.
In lieu of that, perhaps the Nov. 22 meeting between the Oneida and the NFL will be productive, but the last thing any Indian requires is another broken treaty. Those discussions need to result in positive and bindingly permanent action, and nothing less than the retirement of this racial slur.
Daniel Snyder, in the face of overwhelming change, has only dug his heels further into the quicksand of his own outdated and unsympathetic views.
For the rest of the NFL, this upcoming meeting will be the make-or-break moment to finally put its morals where its mouth is.