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 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 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 real American tradition of change for justice.