NOTE: This post is not meant to be a pro- or anti- name change post, although I do expect that folks will take the opportunity to argue their sides below. It is an inherently emotional issue, and I ask that you try and be respectful of all opinions.
If you needed more proof that the name-change issue is not going away any time soon, look no further than the latest salvo fired by Dan Snyder and the Washington Redskins. In a letter that many of us received last night, Dan Snyder announced the formation of the Washington Redskins Original Americans Foundation.
I have to hand it to Dan. Showing no signs of backing down from the public onslaught he has endured over the Name Issue, the owner of our favorite team pushed even more chips into the middle of the table. I'll say this: it is a far wiser play than declaring--in CAPS--that he will never change. It is a stronger move than the last letter he sent out, trying to convince the world that "Redskins" is not racist. Going the charity route is a better next step than playing the "One of my best friends is a Native American" card. Potentially making a real difference in the Native American community is a stronger argument than saying, "Seriously...guys...I'm not racist!"
I guess I have two areas of thought on this letter. First, and most importantly, it appears that real money and real resources will be allocated to help people that desperately need help. This is not something I can or will overlook. Dan Snyder gave us words the last time around, and now he gives us action. Even if you continue to find issue with our owner, this endeavor is worthy of praise--no matter what the motivation behind it may be. Further, for anyone desperately seeking some rationale for spending even a dime on Redskins merchandise or tickets (or rationale for already spending it), knowing that some of your money is going to help the people who are represented on our hats, jerseys, t-shirts, etc. is a step in the right direction. I am guessing that it won't move the needle for everyone, but it is at least there, and it has to be recognized. I take my shots on occasion, but fairness dictates that I call attention to something that could have genuinely positive results.
As I said above, this latest move indicates that the issue over whether the Redskins should change their name is alive and well. In the last month alone, I have taken calls from a number of journalists from major national outlets digging for facts, anecdotes and opinions on the issue. Before the next season begins, I have no doubt that a renewed effort will be launched to attack Dan Snyder and his stance, as well as attempt to influence public opinion even more than the campaign(s) carried out in 2013 by a variety of groups. I know Peter King has no intention of dropping the issue, and I don't anticipate Bob Costas changing his stance. Thanks to a history of prickly moves with national media outlets, the chances are greater that people jump on the opposing side. Oh...you want an example? How about being the ONLY team in the ENTIRE NFL to not respond to the Wall Street Journal's request to send in a picture of your team's holiday decorations? It is a little thing that sounds petty, right? When I talk to someone from CNN, SI, NBC, or ESPN, that kind of story comes up right away--and I am not the one who brings it up. Incidents like that paint the organization in a rather negative light, and Snyder has provided enough paint to open a gallery. If there is a national personality that has not yet made up his or her mind on the Redskins name, the chances that "other" stuff will influence them are on the high side.
My second thought is that this letter and the announcement of the Foundation helps to give Snyder some breathing room, but the fight is far from over. I have said it before and I will say it again: once you find yourself on the defensive in a debate over real or perceived racism in our current society, you have probably already lost. The Political Correctness train makes next to zero stops. Being accused of racism is as close to being tied to those tracks as anything. The arguments made against the name and for its change would seem to have at least enough merit to warrant a sustained effort to see it destroyed. The arguments for the name and against its change also appear to have merit, though it is a very difficult road to walk.
The latest direction taken by Dan Snyder and the Washington Redskins is as smart as it is late. As someone who believes (or desperately wants to believe) in his heart that the name of his favorite team is not racist, I think this move should have happened a long time ago. Even though Snyder worked "away from the spotlight" on the creation of this endeavor, the spotlight was shining brightly on him nonetheless. Instead of defiantly and even angrily suggesting that the name would NEVER CHANGE under that spotlight, perhaps the charity route would have preempted some of the angst we have since witnessed.
This move is meant to look proactive. It is meant to look like Snyder is on the offensive, re-taking control of the issue and the debate. We would all be foolish to believe this is true. It is a very, very defensive move. I very much appreciate that people will benefit from it. I very much appreciate that the Redskins organization is putting real money, resources and action behind its words here. I very much wish that they had started down this path before we got to this point.
Talking about the name and the name change is a rather divisive issue on sites like this, because so many of us feel so strongly connected to the name. The last thing in the world any of us wants is for the name of our favorite team--a name we chant and sing about in good times and bad--to be associated with the negativity and nastiness that is racism. For us, our hopes rest largely in the efforts of an organization that is slowly building its case that the Washington Redskins are about bringing honor and benefit to the Native American community. Until then, brace yourselves. This thing is far from over.