By Ronald N. Guy Jr.
This time last year, Washington owner Daniel Snyder had a big problem. His football team couldn’t stay out of the headlines. Excessive attention isn’t normally a problem for the master marketer, but the press wasn’t for wins or losses, outrageous free agent contracts or the social media trials and tribulations of the team’s sensitive starting quarterback. Such football-related topics would have been welcomed. What flaw in Snyder’s billion-dollar biz was being virally attacked? Something it couldn’t escape: the team’s name.
Critics appeared on television and in print. A bloodthirsty posse emerged from the deepest regions of cyberspace. The crusaders of right wielded pens and spewed passionate prose. They tickled keyboards and barked into cameras. Anyone and everyone with a platform was stepping up and taking their cuts at Snyder’s dangling burgundy and gold piñata. The Daily Show took its shots. Bob Costas and Keith Olbermann had their turn. So did I. The media mob couldn’t hope to be contained by the sports pages. Oh no, this story had crossover appeal. It was a pop culture lightening rod. Rolling Stone gave it some run. The New Yorker put it ON THE COVER! War had been declared on the “R” word.
Despite the valid arguments, the breadth and depth of which would have rattled even the most ardent supporter, Snyder stood, arm-crossed and defiant. He knew what the term meant. He had questionable data to validate his position and his fan base – allegedly – was behind him. Everyone else was wrong. Change the name? Not on his watch. The Affordable Health Care Act would have a better chance of passing through the current Congress. The R—skins and all the associated Native American imagery would never change.
Snyder was so emboldened that he stared his misguided adversaries in the eye and launched an offensive. He issued a letter in the fall of 2013 describing the R-word as an honorable term representing pride and tradition. Then, in a letter issued in March of last year, Snyder touted an extensive tour he took through Native American reservations around the country. In his letter, Snyder noted the serious issues facing many Native American communities, made a commitment to help and announced the beginning of the Original Americans Foundations (OAF), the mission of which “is to provide meaningful and measurable resources that provide genuine opportunities for Tribal communities.”
I wanted it to be a genuine sign of compassion and, perhaps, the first step toward an eventual name change. I feared it was organization based in more politics than charity. A year later, my wants have faded and my fears appear realized. The OAF’s website contains littler more than a mission statement, Snyder’s aforementioned letter, a picture from the owner’s tour and news updates that desperately need…well…updating (the latest entry is from March 2014). I also found no reference to the OAF on the team’s official website.
Undaunted, I turned to a tried and true information source: Google. Again, there was nothing of substance for months. Keeping hope alive, I emailed the OAF and the team requesting information – any information – on the organization’s recent activity. To date, I have not received a response.
In Snyder’s March 2014 letter, he said, “The Washington Redskins Original Americans Foundation will serve as a living, breathing legacy – and an ongoing reminder – of the heritage and tradition that is the Washington Redskins.” A year later, the OAF appears to be either idle or the most stealth philanthropic organization in history. If the former is true, it is sad commentary on ‘Skins of Washington and the NFL…and there’s no reasonably available evidence to think otherwise.
In Batman Begins, the Caped Crusader said, “It’s not who you are underneath, it’s what you do that defines you.” On changing the name, Snyder’s actions define him as a staunch R-word preservationalist. Regarding the original promises of the OAF, the franchise’s trail of action has gone cold. But maybe I missed something. Perhaps Snyder and the OAF continue to, in accordance with its mission statement, “tackle the troubling realities facing so many tribes across our country.” I’d love to be proven wrong. I’d love to just get an email acknowledging my queries.
Until then, I’m left to surmise that what Snyder really sought last year was what he got: a tempering of the “change the name” flames. It has slipped below the headlines. It isn’t a daily story anymore. Many one-time champions of change have fallen silent. Maybe their passion still burns. Human nature being what it is, I suppose anger and outrage are usually just temporary states. However, lacking constant opposition, Snyder, the one person whose opinion really matters, doesn’t appear inclined to do anything…not even to update a website that’s gone stale just a year after a passionate launch.
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