Earlier this week, Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder one again defied Native American groups, the local press, and even the president of the United States by affirming that he would not give into pressure to change the Redskins’ name.
No surprise: less than a year ago Snyder asserted he would “NEVER—you can use caps” give up the Redskins name.
What’s new is that—after a cross-country listening tour on Native American reservations—Snyder announced the creation of the Washington Redskins Original Americans Foundation, a charity that will “provide meaningful and measurable resources that provide genuine opportunities for Tribal communities.”
The new charity seems all to the good—Snyder writes that more than forty projects are in the works. As cynics have noted, however, Snyder’s announcement would have been yet more impressive if Snyder had announced how well it would be funded.
But charity can’t replace a lack of decorum, including addressing others as they wish to be addressed. It is simply no longer acceptable to refer to Native Americans as “redskins”—and, most importantly, it is not used by Native Americans themselves. Dan Snyder recognizes this shift in his letter, which refers to “Native Americans” (why he then called the new foundation the “Washington Redskins Original Americans Foundation” is a puzzle).
The shift in the acceptability of “redskins” parallels shifts in other terms to describe race and ethnic background in the last half century: my own birth certificate records my race as “Germanic,” a designation that no one would consider acceptable today, and Thurgood Marshall and Martin Luther King Jr. both referred African Americans as “negroes,” a term that is no longer acceptable.
And, the new terms—“Native American” and “African American,”—point to origins, however remote, rather than skin color, such as “negro,” “black,” or “redskin.” Terms that point to a story of origins rather than mere skin color are probably to be preferred, and certainly to be preferred when a preponderance to those to whom they refer prefer those terms to former ones.
To offer philanthropy in the face of changing the team name is to throw out a red herring to distract from the objectionableness of the Redskins name.
To be sure, Snyder’s is not tainted philanthropy that comes someone who has done wrong (as, for example, some described philanthropy from the Paterno Foundation in the wake of the Sandusky scandal). Snyder has done nothing wrong; there’s no reason to doubt his claim of sincere regard for Native Americans, although Snyder's argument has seemed to be that changing the name would be an admission of having denigrated Native Americans. Changing the Redskins name, if anything, would add to the Snyder’s good works by confirming the unacceptability of the term “redskins.”
Dan Snyder should let go of the Redskins name. It’s time. It would be no admission of any past denigration of Native Americans. And, then he can focus on whether Robert Griffin III is ready for the next season.