Dan Snyder’s Crass, Cynical Ploy to Buy His Way Out of Changing His Team’s Racist Name

The stadium scene.
March 25 2014 1:59 PM

Here, Take This Coat

Washington owner Dan Snyder’s cynical new effort to squelch the controversy over his racist team name.

Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder looks on before a game between the New York Giants and Washington Redskins in December 2012 in Landover, Maryland.
Washington NFL team owner Daniel Snyder has created a new foundation to help Native Americans.

Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

Dan Snyder wants to help Native Americans. In an open letter, the owner of the Washington NFL team describes the hardships faced by American Indian tribes and what he’s doing to help fix them. Snyder says his new foundation has distributed 3,000 winter coats, athletic shoes for Native American children, and a backhoe to Nebraska’s Omaha Tribe. “For too long, the struggles of Native Americans have been ignored, unnoticed and unresolved,” Snyder writes. “As a team, we have honored them through our words and on the field, but now we will honor them through our actions.” Oh, and by the way, the team is not changing its offensive nickname: “[O]ur team name captures the best of who we are and who we can be, by staying true to our history and honoring the deep and enduring values our name represents.”

Josh Levin Josh Levin

Josh Levin is Slate's executive editor.

At least Snyder is consistent. The owner, and his team, could commit to helping Native American causes while also admitting that the franchise’s long-standing nickname—a name that Slate will not print—must be changed. But that’s not how Snyder operates. When you’re stubborn, cynical, and rich, you don’t see the team’s nickname controversy and the plight of the American Indian as independent problems with independent solutions. Rather, they’re issues to be bundled and resolved together, with shoes and coats buying the goodwill that your franchise will never earn on its own.

Faced with increasing pressure to change his team’s nickname, the Washington owner has shown that he’ll throw whatever (or whoever) he can at what he perceives as a nettlesome PR problem. Last May, the team paraded around a man named Chief Dodson, a fellow described as “a full-blooded American Inuit chief” who explained that he and his fellow Native Americans considered the team’s nickname a “term of endearment.” A few days after Dodson’s pronouncement, Snyder boasted to USA Today, “We'll never change the name. It's that simple: NEVER—you can use caps.” One problem for Snyder, as Dave McKenna described in Deadspin: The chief was not a real chief.


A few months later, Snyder sent a letter to the team’s season-ticket holders. This time, he was more restrained, more respectful. “I’ve listened carefully to the commentary and perspectives on all sides, and I respect the feelings of those who are offended by the team name,” he wrote. Even so, he insisted that the name “was, and continues to be, a badge of honor.” He continued, “In 1971, our legendary coach, the late George Allen, consulted with the Red Cloud Athletic Fund … and designed our emblem. … Several years later, Coach Allen was honored by the Red Cloud Athletic Fund. On the wall at our Ashburn, Virginia, offices is the plaque given to Coach Allen—a source of pride for all of us.” The problem this time: The Red Cloud Indian School had nothing to do with designing the team’s emblem and finds the team’s nickname deeply offensive.

The plus side of Snyder’s latest PR gambit is that Native Americans are at least getting something out of the billionaire. And we shouldn’t heap scorn on Snyder without noting that the Cleveland Indians have continuously refused to banish their big-toothed, big-nosed mascot Chief Wahoo to the garbage heap where it belongs.

It’s perfectly consistent, though, to feel warm and fuzzy about the winter coats while scorning the crassness of the man who hands them out. Though Slate no longer writes out the nickname, I must do so here to explain that Snyder has announced the formation of the “Washington Redskins Original Americans Foundation.” This is perhaps the most uncharitable name ever conceived for a charitable group, something akin to calling your organization “Kikes United Against Anti-Semitism.” If you want my money, he’s saying, you’re going to have to choke down my nickname along with it. This is the essence of Dan Snyder: He can’t do good works without shoving his badness in your face.

A recent Washington Post survey found that 37 percent of Post readers want the team to change its nickname. There are also polls that suggest that the majority of Native Americans don’t find the nickname offensive. But it shouldn’t be up to Dan Snyder to decide exactly how many people (and exactly which people) need to be insulted by a word—one that dictionaries label as a slur—before his team agrees to stop using it.

If you take the kind of listening tour where you actually listen to people, it’s easy to find Native American leaders—from the Oneida Nation, the Red Cloud Indian School, and elsewhere—who want the nickname banished forever. Rep. Betty McCollum, the co-chair of the House Native American Caucus, said on Tuesday that “Snyder wants to keep profiting from his team’s racist brand and use those profits to attempt to buy the silence of Native Americans with a foundation that is equal parts public relations scheme and tax deduction.”

Thanks to people like McCollum, Snyder’s money isn’t buying silence. No matter how much money he spends or what he spends it on, the pressure will stay on the Washington owner to do what’s right and change the name. But knowing Snyder, it’s safe to say the right thing is the furthest thing from his mind.

Josh Levin is Slate's executive editor.


Frame Game

Hard Knocks

I was hit by a teacher in an East Texas public school. It taught me nothing.

What Hillary Clinton’s Iowa Remarks Reveal About Her 2016 Fears

After This Merger, One Company Could Control One-Third of the Planet's Beer Sales

John Oliver Pleads for Scotland to Stay With the U.K.

If You’re Outraged by the NFL, Follow This Satirical Blowhard on Twitter


Don’t Expect Adrian Peterson to Go to Prison

In much of America, beating your kids is perfectly legal. 

The Juice

Ford’s Big Gamble

It’s completely transforming America’s best-selling vehicle.

I Tried to Write an Honest Profile of One of Bollywood’s Biggest Stars. It Didn’t Go Well.

Here’s Why College Women Don’t Take Rape Allegations to the Police

The XX Factor
Sept. 15 2014 1:51 PM Here’s Why College Women Don’t Take Rape Allegations to the Police
  News & Politics
Sept. 15 2014 8:56 PM The Benghazi Whistleblower Who Might Have Revealed a Massive Scandal on his Poetry Blog
Sept. 15 2014 7:27 PM Could IUDs Be the Next Great Weapon in the Battle Against Poverty?
Sept. 15 2014 4:38 PM What Is Straight Ice Cream?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 15 2014 3:31 PM My Year As an Abortion Doula
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Sept. 15 2014 11:38 AM The Slate Doctor Who Podcast: Episode 4  A spoiler-filled discussion of "Listen."
Brow Beat
Sept. 15 2014 8:58 PM Lorde Does an Excellent Cover of Kanye West’s “Flashing Lights”
Future Tense
Sept. 15 2014 4:49 PM Cheetah Robot Is Now Wireless and Gallivanting on MIT’s Campus
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 15 2014 11:00 AM The Comet and the Cosmic Beehive
Sports Nut
Sept. 15 2014 9:05 PM Giving Up on Goodell How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.