Dan Snyder watched his Redskins play the Cardinals on Sunday alongside Ben Shelly, president of the Navajo Nation, and his wife Martha. Snyder’s team lost the game on the field as they won a public-relations victory in the visiting owner’s box.
Snyder, unlike the recent teams he has fielded, fights back.
“We’ll never change the name,” he told USA Today last year. “It’s that simple. NEVER — you can use caps.”
Since unambiguously articulating his recalcitrance, Snyder has started the Original Americans Foundations to buy backhoes, winter coats, and other items for Native American tribes. He has launched a website, RedskinsFacts.com, to counter the attack on the team’s four-score-and-one-year-old name. And on Sunday afternoon, Snyder broadcast the message to millions that even if the palest of the pale faces Phil Simms won’t say his team’s name on the air, the man representing one of America’s most storied tribes wears a Redskins hat with pride on national television.
On cue, Deadspin trashed Ben Shelly. The sports site, suddenly expert on tribal politics, maintains that the Navajo Nation president “entered office under a dark cloud” and “was accused of going behind the back of tribal leaders.” The only good Indian is a Deadspin Indian.
Shelly, and so many Native Americans, have wandered off the reservation on Washington’s NFL franchise. Many American Indians take as much umbrage at “Redskins” as “Irish” Micky Ward does at “Celtics,” the Swedish Chef does at “Vikings,” and Bob and Doug McKenzie do at “Canucks.” The song, after all, doesn’t say, “Jail to the Redskins.”
“They’ve never asked Native Americans,” Chippewa Cree tribesman Wade Colliflower explains on RedskinsFacts.com. “It’s somebody else who knows nothing about us trying to speak for us. It’s kind of an insult.” Colliflower calls the team name a “positive term” that honors Native Americans.
Further away from Indian Country and closer to Redskins Country, Patowomeck tribe chief Robert Green told the Richmond Times Dispatch last year, “About 98 percent of my tribe is Redskins fans, and it doesn’t offend them, either.” Kevin Brown, Pamunkey chief, told the paper: “I like the uniforms. I like the symbol.”
Ten years ago, the National Annenberg Election Survey polled Native Americans on the NFL franchise’s name. Nine percent said the name bothered them. Ninety percent said that it didn’t.
Clearly, it bothers many white people when the name doesn’t bother Native Americans.