What’s In a Football Name? Snyder Thinks He Knows – And He’s Wrong

So this popped out the other day.

It’s no secret how I feel about the whole name thing with the Washington football team. I oppose it. I think it’s racist. I have several personal issues with the name. But that’s not why I decided to post something about it.

The letter is a poor public relations attempt, mostly to mollify diehard team fans who will, unto the bitter end, support the racist moniker. Not out of reason, but blind emotion.

Hey, I get it. I understand why. Team fandom is a complicated, deep, personal thing that involves a lot of emotional investment and history. It’s difficult to hear that your beloved franchise is doing something wrong – simply by using a name (and by extension, mascot and other fan accoutrements).

The problem comes when that moniker is unveiled to be racist. The Washington issue isn’t anything new; it’s been around for decades. The movement today has found new momentum and has begun to find rightful traction in righting a wrong. (Just like the Civil Rights Movement began finding traction nearly one hundred years after Emancipation.)

The first third of Snyder’s letter is a play on his loyal fanbase’s emotional strings. “I still remember…the passion of the fans…the ground beneath me seemed to move and shake…he’s been gone for 10 years now…” All phrases and words evoking emotions and certainly causing the reader to recall their own cherished memories. Setting them into their defensive stance, so that the rest of the letter, which uses standard PR spin and deft deflection, only ratchets up the emotional volume for their impassioned – and misguided – defense.

Oh, and then there’s the trite “Our past isn’t just where we came from–it’s who we are” phrase. Bolded and italicized, even. Because it’s important! 

And yet that same phrase should be viewed in the light of the atrocities and attempted genocide of the native population that tried to co-exist here during the nation’s past. Dan, Native Americans have a past, too – and it isn’t just where they came from. It’s also who they are.

Okay, first “point” made by Dan: the team name was changed from “Braves” to its current incarnation because “four players and our Head Coach were Native Americans.” Right.

Problem the first: There’s strong evidence to show that William “Lone Star” Dietz actually posed as a Sioux native for several reasons–none of them altruistic. Dietz was nothing more than a “wannabe Native.”

Second “point” made by Dan: George Allen consulted with the Red Cloud Athletic Fund on Pine Ridge to design the emblem. And was then honored by the organization a few years later. He then uses that to claim the emblem and plaque as a “symbol of everything we stand for: strength, courage, pride, and respect…”

Problem the second: George Allen actually created the Red Cloud Athletic Fund. So…yeah. The organization that owes its existence to Allen was used to create the emblem and then “honor” the man. There’s a lot you could infer or assume from that, which I’ll refrain. Basically, Snyder’s making his case based in part on consultations Allen had with a group he created. And was then honored. By same group.

Third “point”: Two polls are mentioned, the infamous Annenberg poll from 2004, and the AP survey from back in April this year. These are trotted out to show that the Native community overwhelmingly supports the team name.

Problem the third: The Annenberg poll is suspect, based primarily on its methodology. This article does a great job outlining all the problems with its methods, including the entire “self-described” hooey. (Oh look. Wannabe Natives popping up again.) And the AP poll? While 79% said the name shouldn’t change, he fails to mention that just about 80% said that if the name WAS changed, they’d still support the team. So…yeah. Clearly changing the team name would oh-so-upset the fanbase to the point of abandoning it. (Not.)

Fourth “point”: Snyder trots out a columnist’s interview with three tribal leaders, who were all quoted as not being offended by the name.

Problem the fourth: Well sure, of course there will be Natives not offended! Just like you can find Democrats who dislike Obama, or Republicans who do support the ACA. So what? There have been plenty of statements by Native leaders who have stated that they-and in a few cases, the entire tribe-ARE offended.

Dan then finishes off his teary-eyed missive with more emotional phrases and calls to the fan heart strings: “participated in some of the greatest games in NFL history”…”won five World Championships”…”the passion of our loyal fans”…”speak proudly”… Yep, build up the emotional groundswell there, Danny-boy.

And if that wasn’t enough, there’s the final, personal tug: “So when I consider the Washington [***] name, I think of what it stands for. I think of the Washington [***] traditions and pride I want to share with my three children, just as my father shared with me – and just as you have shared with your family and friends.”

Oh, and as a kicker, he hammers once again about the “81 year history” and “the team name…continues to hold the memories and meaning of where we came from, who we are, and who we want to be in the years to come.”

Funny. When I hear the name, I cringe inside. I think of other names and places: Wounded Knee. Black Hills. Trail of Tears. Gnadenhütten. Ash Hollow. Red River. Sand Creek. Achulet. (Don’t know them? Look them up. Be horrified.)

Nowhere in Dan’s letter does he address other points about the name: that dictionaries define the word as offensive; that the team, held up as some sort of racially inclusive organization ‘honoring’ its ‘native’ coach, was the last to desegregate – and only because the federal government forced the issue; that over the last 35 years, more than 2,000 high schools have changed their similarly racial nicknames to something else; that studies have shown that negative racial stereotypes are known to play a role in exacerbating inequity and inadequacy among Native youth; and that many Native leaders have indeed spoken out against the name. Among other things.

Dan closes with this final thought: “I respect the opinions of those who disagree. I want them to know that I do hear them, and I will continue to listen and learn.”

Good. Then I urge you, Dan, to take up the Oneida Indian Nation on its open invitation to visit the tribe’s homeland and talk with its leaders and people.

I personally dare Dan to walk in and greet the nation using the name as he contends it to mean.

I’m fairly certain he’d learn firsthand what that word really means to Natives.

Having lived in the DC area for ten years, Ben still loves to wander the city with his wife, shooting lots of photos and exploring all the latest exhibits and galleries. A certified hockey fanatic, he spends some time debating the Washington Capitals club with friends – but everyone knows of his three decade love affair with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

A professional writer, gamer, photographer, and Lego enthusiast, Ben remains captivated by DC and doesn’t plan on leaving any time soon.

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2 thoughts on “What’s In a Football Name? Snyder Thinks He Knows – And He’s Wrong

  1. Jeez Ben, it’s like you have no respect for the value of some rich white dude explaining what is and isn’t racist. Who would know better???

  2. Brilliant. Bravo. Almost as good as Sally Jenkins’ parody that appeared in the Washington Post the other day, and that was one of the outstanding pieces of advocacy sportswriting of the last decade, as far as I’m concerned.