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An open letter to Dan Snyder about that racist nickname

An open letter to Dan Snyder about the rather racist Washington Redskins name.

Washington Redskins

“We’ll start signing Negroes when the Harlem Globetrotters start signing whites.” —George Preston Marshall; founder of the Washington Redskins, 1961
“We’ll never change the name. It’s that simple. NEVER — you can use caps.”  —Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder, 2013

No one has ever heard you speak about the well-known connective DNA between the team name and the man who coined it, original owner George Preston Marshall, who was called the NFL’s “leading bigot” by legendary Washington Post sportswriter Shirley Povich. You surely know that Marshall was an arch-segregationist and your team was the last in the NFL to integrate. You probably see it as irrelevant to the name that Marshall had a deep affection for the slave South and minstrel shows or that for years he had “Dixie” played before home games.2 You’ve made clear that you want to someday bring the team back to D.C. from the suburban hinterlands of Landover, Maryland. You’ve also made clear your contempt for the D.C. mayor and the D.C. City Council, who have said if you ever want to see public subsidies for this venture, the name must change.

You, however, have not commented on the devastating letter from 10 members of Congress this month, including Oklahoma Republican Tom Cole of the Chickasaw Nation, who said that the name was similar to having a team called “the Washington N-words” and that it “diminishes feelings of community and worth among the Native American tribes.” Roger Goodell sure has. Goodell answered Congress in a letter released June 11, in which he defended the name “Redskins,” calling it “a unifying force that stands for strength, courage, pride and respect.” I’m sure all concerned are very relieved to hear that “redskin” is a term of unity and respect, because if there was one thing George Preston Marshall believed in, it was unity and respect. Oh, also white supremacy. Unity, respect, and white supremacy. (In other news from NFL Bizarro World, there is still no conclusive proof that traumatic brain injury is linked to football.)

But back to you, Dan. You say that you stand with “the fans,” but you’ve never commented on leading local fan blogs like Hogs Haven and Mr. Irrelevant — both of which have said the time is now to change the name. You say the name represents the team’s history of great players, but I’ve never heard you respond to former Skins Pro Bowler Tre’ Johnson, who said, “It’s an ethnically insensitive moniker that offends an entire race of displaced people. That should be reason enough to change it.”
 I know you don’t think the name is racist and wrong, and therefore I have to assume that you disagree with Suzan Shown Harjo, a woman of Cheyenne and Muscogee descent who is president of the Morning Star Institute, a national indigenous-rights organization in D.C. Harjo said to me, “For most Native Americans, there’s no more offensive name in English. That non-Native folks think they get to measure or decide what offends us is adding insult to injury.”

People like Suzan Harjo, Tre’ Johnson, and Tom Cole talk and you just hear — pardon the expression — white noise. I know you’re dug in. What I don’t know is whether you realize that this change is going to happen, and soon. I don’t know whether you realize that, after 14 years of a disastrous tenure as owner that has seen your local popularity rank just below that of the summer mosquito population, you are about to be a victim of your own success.

Since I moved to D.C. in 1996, the team’s fortunes, depending on your rooting interests, were either high comedy or low tragedy (this guy was most assuredly both). But now, for the first time since you became boss, the burgundy-and-gold matters. Now the top-selling jersey in the NFL is our own Robert Griffin III, a second-year quarterback who — and it thrills just to type these words — somehow led the NFL in yards per attempt and yards per carry in his first season. Now this is a team that, if RG3 stays upright, will contend for Super Bowls over the next decade. He’s that good.

Imagine if your team makes the Super Bowl. Instead of glory, I can guarantee two solid weeks of coverage, debate, and questions about why our shared national holiday will be marred by a racial slur. Instead of celebrating the league, your buddy Roger Goodell would be under the hot lights and pressed at every turn about why several media outlets in the D.C.-Metro area refer to your franchise only as “the Washington football team.” There would be “Occupy Redskins” protests in the Super Bowl host city. With RG3 comes relevance, and with relevance comes the one thing Roger Goodell loathes more than direct sunlight: political attention. The attention RG3 demands, the heightened profile of the team, and your desire to get a new D.C. stadium all speak to the reason why there is more sunlight than ever on the shame of this name and why the end is assuredly near.

You are a man with gossamer-thin skin and no shortage of pride.3 For your own good, you need to switch your thinking on this. There’s a reason why history is kinder to Bear Bryant than to Adolph Rupp.4

You are not a subtle man, so let’s not beat around the bush. You say the name isn’t offensive. I think it’s time to prove it. Let’s let the tailgate drop and the bullshit stop. Instead of proclaiming how “respectful” the name “redskin” is in a region with an indigenous population of just 0.6 percent, I am inviting you to take a road trip with me. I am asking you to step out of your gated community and roll with me Midnight Run–style on the Pine Ridge reservation among the Black Hills in the great state of South Dakota. Once there, you will stand tall in a beautiful burgundy-and-gold Starter jacket and your famous Redskins belt buckle, and sing our shared fight song, “Hail to the Redskins.” Explain the rich history of the team to all present. Tell them about how it’s really a tribute, as your former vice-president Karl Swanson said, “derived from the Native American tradition for warriors to daub their bodies with red clay before battle.” Make it plain that you mean no disrespect, and then let’s roll the cameras and make YouTube magic.

So again, can tell me again why Saskatoon is so comfortable with the name Redman that Bedford Road uses.

2 Comments

  1. Rick Hall says:

    Hey, Jordan …. I know you think you speak for the entire native American nation, but hear me, white man, you don’t. I am Strong Eagle, of the White Mountain Apache nation! My given, Christian name is Rick Hall. You think you’re the enlightened one?! You haven’t been in this area long enough to even form a just opinion of the topic you feel so adamant about!
    Ms. Harjo has her opinion, and I, along with thousands of other vets, and active duty men and women saw to that with our sweat, blood, tears, and lives. However, that doesn’t make her right! Whining louder, doesn’t make a better case! ie … People opposing the name “Redskins” liken it’s usage to the dreaded “N” word. But blacks call each other that offensive “N” word on a daily basis. They are generally not offended, and use that offensive “N” word as a term of endearment! Bigots make a name offensive, not the name itself!
    Fact: The term Redskin was used by the settlers to describe the indigenous peoples, as they had no other knowledge of these native people! Frankly, what offends me, is being called an “Indian!” Do we look like we’re Hindu to you?! I’m native American, not an Indian! I’m not from India. People, please … Do not feed the same political greed that cost us our sacred lands, our freedom, and our land! Say no to the bigotry, and hatred! Just say what Mr. Snyder has said to the haters, we are the Washington Redskins! Learn how to deal with it! And Jordan … Do your job … Report sports news, and not your personal agenda!
    HTTR FOREVER!

  2. You’re seriously going to quote George Preston Marshall, and try to hang racism on Daniel Snyder?! Let me tell you something … I am a native American. I have the right to determine what is offensive to me, and what isn’t. Not you! I am proud to be a lifelong Redskins supporter, and fan! That’s 60 of my 64 years on this earth! I am also a Vietnam vet. I fought for freedom. Your’s, as well as everyone else’s in this country! You, and every single one of the politicians who are on Mr. Snyder’s back to do what you say is right, make me sick! Why not go to Congress, and demand they return the sacred lands they stole from my people, and allowed to be desecrated by a card carrying member of the KKK? You looking to do a good deed, try that on for size!
    This is typical of the media being used by politicians!
    Give it up! I’m behind Mr. Snyder, 100%. We’re the Redskins, learn how to live with it!

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