Point of View Columns

Dan Snyder – All American Tragedy

You may not know who Dan Snyder is, and that might be just as well because in addition to being the owner of the Washington NFL team he is also a sad and tragic individual who is mired in the muck and sewage of racism, intolerance and stunning insensitivity. In this country there is a prevailing belief that if someone is rich they must also be smart and have something worthwhile to say. Dan Snyder is living proof of the absolute fallacy of that belief.

The cause for concern here is the fact that the shameful naming of the Boston (later Washington) football team as the “Redskins” in 1933 is defended in the name of tradition. The problem with that argument is that this “tradition” is based upon the horrific history of the Native American population and its interaction with white Western Europeans. Through plague and mass killings it is possible that as many as 70 million Native Americans died while America was first “discovered” and then “settled”.

It takes a special kind of insensitivity and blockheaded arrogance to decimate a group of people through genocidal practices and then to turn them into mascots and human sock puppets that populate the mythology of American history. And in this enlightened age where we have finally acknowledged using the proper terminology when addressing people who are gay or unusually short or physically challenged, how on earth can anyone seriously suggest that using a racist epithet as the name of a football team is a tradition that is worth defending?

I am a graduate of Dartmouth College and that institution changed its “tradition” over thirty years ago and renamed its sports teams to the “Big Green” relegating the former mascot name of “Indians” to its deserved place on the trash heap of misbegotten monikers.
In the past thirty years many colleges and universities, with a “tradition” a lot longer than the Washington NFL team, have also jettisoned the needless slurring, trivializing and humiliation of Native Americans and have moved on.

The logic employed by billionaire Dan Snyder is so impoverished that if he had been applying it to his business affairs he would have been lining up for food stamps a long time ago. Mr. Snyder is arguing that a wrongful act should be perpetrated because it has been around for a long time and that tradition shouldn’t be changed.

Clearly Mr. Snyder conveniently forgets that there used to be a “tradition” in this country that black people could be owned as slaves. There also used to be a “tradition” that women could not vote. There was a “tradition” that Jews could not attend certain schools or join certain country clubs. There also used to be a tradition that gay men and women could not marry.

But the “tradition” that Dan Snyder also forgets is that these United States, with all of its flaws and faults also has a “tradition” of trying to correct those flaws and faults. And it is because of that tradition, the tradition of change and the tradition of embracing transition that resulted in the Emancipation Proclamation, women’s suffrage, the virtual elimination of religious discriminatory practices at universities and country clubs and the growing legalization of gay marriage.

Meanwhile, Roger Goodell, the Commissioner of the National Football League has been notably silent on this issue. The NFL is a multibillion dollar image conscious enterprise. For Roger Goodell to sit on his well-manicured hands while one of the owners of the NFL franchise is taking a page out of the George Wallace/Lester Maddox playbook. (George Wallace stood in the doorway of the University of Alabama to bar black students from attending and Lester Maddox stood in the doorway of his Atlanta store armed with an axe handle to block attempts at integration.)

It doesn’t matter that 79% of the American public do not think that the Washington NFL team should change its name. Morality and justice cannot be subject to a vote. And the NFL, which extols courage and bravery, should strap on the helmet of courage and the shoulder pads of bravery and do the right thing.

There is no doubt that Mr. Goodell would respond immediately and stop an NFL owner who wanted to change the name of his team to the San Diego Wetbacks or the New York Niggers or the Philadelphia Faggots. Those incredibly insulting terms are as insulting as the term “Redskins” is to Native Americans.

It is time for the Roger Goodell to demonstrate some leadership and time for all of us to embrace the stated American tradition of change for justice.

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3 thoughts on “Dan Snyder – All American Tragedy

  1. Jones, George W. (Partner) says:

    Are Native Americans complaining that the name is offensive? Do you think they are less sensitive to the history of discrimination and oppression than you are?

    George W. Jones, Jr.
    Sidley Austin LLP
    1501 K Street, N.W.
    Washington, DC 20005
    (202) 736-8158 (telephone)
    (202) 550-3017 (mobile)
    (202) 736-8711 (fax)
    gjones@sidley.com

  2. Wallace,
    As a fellow Dartmouth grad (and admirer of your blog), regrettably I must take issue with your characterization of Dartmouth’s Indian as a “misbegotten moniker.” As you well know, Dartmouth and Native Americans have history, dating back to our founder, Eleazar Wheelock, a congregational minister who tutored Samson Occom, a Mohegan who became a Presbyterian Minister and the first Native American to publish writings in English. After establishing a school for Native Americans in Lebanon, CT, Wheelock expanded and relocated it closer to the tribal grounds in Hanover, NH. obtaining a charter from King George III “for the education and instruction of Youth of the Indian Tribes in this Land … and also of English Youth and any others.” As we know, the charter was imperfectly realized, with the focus shifting toward English Youth, rather than Youth of Indian Tribes, who understandably may have been reluctant to matriculate in an alien institution of learning whose faculty and student body were predominantly white Anglo Saxons. Nevertheless, some tribal youths did graduate from Dartmouth in the early days, which is more than can be said of the rest of the Ivy League, I’m quite sure. Even so, the mystique uniting Dartmouth and Native Americans seems to prevail even today, judging by the number of Native Americans I saw at graduation last year, proudly and elegantly dressed in traditional garb.

    Moreover, the now-abandoned Indian logo portrayed the race heroically. Never in my 4 years at Dartmouth did I see my classmate, John Schiffman, head cheerleader dressed in full Indian regalia, convey any hint of racial disrespect, nor as a member of the Dartmouth freshman and varsity soccer squads did I feel anything other than pride in being referred to as a “Dartmouth Indian.”

    Sadly, Native Americans caught up in the wave of racial political correctness during the 1970s, failed to see the regard expressed in the adoption of the Indian symbolism by the College and prevailed upon the trustees to abolish the Indian symbols — although the two Indians carrying books still appear on the official shield. Instead of John Schiffman racing in front of the stands in full head dress and warpaint, we now have “Keggy the Keg,” an anthropomorphic beer keg making occasional appearances at sporting events — a particularly unfortunate representation of the College in view of recent events involving excessive consumption of alcohol.

    Maybe I’m just a grumpy old codger, but somehow “Big Green,” bringing to mind the image of a can of peas, does little to inspire pride in the institution.

  3. KR Ford says:

    These past few weeks featuring the absolute gore in Philadelphia, the horrors in Ohio, and the many, many folks wondering about how to manage the bills left me speechless. Wasn’t sure what to make of bizillionaire Snyder’s stance. Keep up the posts!

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